The Long vowels

The long vowels

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Part 5:  The Long vowels

Long vowels are derivatives that elongate the main vowels. Seeing as Arabic is a very poetic and musical language, I believe a musical metaphor is in order here! Think of the difference between long vowels and short (main) vowels in terms of a musical beat, and you should be able to differentiate between them much easier. If a main vowel lasts for one beat, then its long vowel equivalent lasts for two beats. Whereas you create double vowels by:

writing two main vowels next to each other, you create long vowels by adding a letter to one of the main vowels. Each main vowel has a corresponding consonant that elongates it. Here are a few examples to help you get your head around this long-vowel process:

1-To create a long vowel form of a fatHa, you attach an ‘alif to the consonant that the fatHa is associated with. In English transcription, the long fatHa form is written as “aa,” such as in kitaab (kee-taab; book) or baab (bahb; door). The “aa” means that you hold the vowel sound for two beats as opposed to one.

2-The long vowel form of damma is obtained by attaching a waaw to the consonant with the damma. This addition elongates the vowel “uh” into a more pronounced “uu,” such as in nuur (noohr; light) or ghuul (roohl; ghost). Make sure you hold the “uu” vowel for two beats and not one.

3-To create a long vowel form of a kasra, you attach a yaa’ to the consonant with the kasra. Just as the ‘alif elongates the fatHa and the waaw elongates the damma, the yaa’ elongates the kasra. Some examples include the “ii” in words like kabiir (kah-beer; big) and Saghiir (sah-reer; small).

The Arabic characters for the long vowels are shown in Table 1-2.

long vowels in arabic


Diphthongs in Arabic are a special category of vowels because, in essence, they’re monosyllabic sounds that begin with one vowel and “glide” intoanother vowel. A common example in English is the sound at the end of the word “toy.”

Fortunately, Arabic has only two diphthong sounds used to distinguish between the yaa’ ( ) and the waaw ( ) forms of long vowels. When you come across either of these two letters, one of the first questions to ask yourself is:

“Is this a long vowel or a diphthong?” There’s an easy way to determine which is which: When either the yaa’ or the waaw is a diphthong, you see a sukun (soo-koon) above the consonant. A sukun is similar to the main vowels in that it’s a little symbol (a small circle) that you place above.

the consonant. However, unlike the vowels, you don’t vocalize the sukun — it’s almost like a “silent” vowel. So when a waaw or yaa’ has a sukun over it,
you know that the sound is a diphthong! Here are some examples:

waaw diphthongs: yawm (yah-oom; day); nawm (nah-oom; sleep); Sawt
(sah-oot; noise)
yaa’ diphthongs: bayt (bah-yet; house); ‘ayn (ah-yen; eye); layla (lah-yelah;

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