Hebrew vowels are only written where exact pronunciation is necessary - things like names, dictionary entries, poetry, words meant to be pronounced in a non-standard manner and documents for beginning readers. The vowel symbols are known as Nikkud ( נִיקּוּד.) The vowels are added as small lines and dots; often called points; above, below and sometimes in the middle of the consonants.
Although there are nine different Nikkud, and technically they are all slightly different in pronunciation and grammar rules, the reality is that given variations in vowel pronunciation, you really only have the familiar aieou sounds and a mark to specify the absence of a vowel (essentially an end of syllable mark.) If your goal is to speak and be understood, you only need to learn the few simple rules shown in the table below. Using this article and the article on Hebrew consonants, can you figure out what the examples mean? You'll find the answers at the bottom of the article. (HINT: They are all English loan words or cognates.)
|A sounds are formed with a line below the consonant|
|E sounds are formed with dots below the consonant|
|I sounds are formed with a vowel followed by a Yod(י )|
|0 sounds are formed with a dot above the letter, either directly above a Vav (ו) or above the upper left corner of another consonant|
|U sounds have a dot at the mid-line – either a Vav (ו) with a dot on the left mid-line of the letter or 3 dots at an angle under a consonant.|
|Two dots one above the other have no sound and are a sign that there is no vowel on that consonant. The closest concept to this is English would be a mark for the short pause at the end of a syllable.|
When the Vav (ו) is used to form the O or U sound, the V sound is not vocalized. This is much like how W is used in English – think of how W sounds different in cow and coward. In cow, W is essentially a dipthong (joined vowel), this is why my first grade teacher taught us that the vowels were “AEIOU and sometimes Y and W.”
Having trouble figuring out the examples?
Take a look at Learning the Hebrew Alphabet - Consonants.
This is a fun book that I've found very useful in studying Hebrew! Find out more about The Usborne First Thousand Words in Hebrew from our Natural Living editor's Usborne books website.