Learn How to Read Pointed Hebrew Texts (Nikud) Correctly

To pronounce Hebrew, you have to learn and know the nikud, points, and vowels of Hebrew.

Many people know how to read Hebrew letters, but find pointed Hebrew texts quite complicated. This is an article, which deals with the vowels and points system, or as it is called in Hebrew, nikud. The article is divided into two parts. The first part will present a quick and basic review of the points and vowels system and the second will present pointed texts from other aspects. The idea of the course is to simplify the system and enable each and everyone to understand this unique way of spelling and reading without getting lost on the way.

The vowels and points system simplifies the reading of Hebrew.

Unlike English, the vowels do not have to appear in the words in order to enable the reader to pronounce them correctly. Points and lines, which appear in, on and under the letters assist readers in pronouncing the words correctly. Beginners will find reading without the lines and dots almost impossible, however, will manage without them, once they practice and get the hang of it.

There has been a great demand from Yanshuf and Bereshit readers for a simple course in the vowels and points system. The system is not easy and by the way quite difficult and sometimes even unknown to many Israelis. Many of them find the lines and dots quite confusing and manage very well without them. This course will not go into minor details, which are not relevant to reading correctly.

PART 1

אַ – פָּתַח (patach)

אָ – קָמַץ  (kamatz)

אֲ – חָטַף-פָּתַח (hataf – patach)

All these symbols are pronounced     A

For example, the Hebrew word for nose is afף  א.

Sometimes a patach may appear under the letters ה  , ע and ח  at the end of a word. For example:  גָּבוֹהַּ,שָׁבוּעַ, שָׂמֵחַ, מִשְׁלוֹחַ  The sound A will not be pronounced after the consonant but before it. shavuaa, sameach, mishloach, gavoah .

Sometimes a kamatz will be found in the letter “ך” – ךָּ. It should be pronounced cha. The word אָחִיךָ, meaning your brother in the masculine, is pronounced achicha . With no kamatz , it is pronounced achich meaning your brother, in the feminine.

A rule:

When a kamatz appears in the letter “ך”  it refers to the masculine.

For example:

דניאל, קח את מכוניתך וסע לביתך.

Daniel, kach et mechonitcha vesa leveitcha.  (Daniel, take your car and go to your home.)

When the letter “ “ך appears with no kamatz , it refers to the feminine.

For example:

דינה, קחי את מכוניתך וסעי לביתך 

Dina kchi et mechonitech usei leveitech. (Dina, take your car and drive home.)

Let’s practice.

Read the following sentences.

דָּנָה קָמָה. לָמָּה? כָּכָה.

Dana kama. Lama? Kacha.

Dana got up. Why? Just because.

מָה הַשָּׁעָה?

Ma HaSha´ah?

What time is it?

הַזַּמָּר עָלָה לַבָּמָה.

HaZamar ala la´bama.

The singer got onto the stage.

1) Read the following sentences and place suitable nikud symbols.

1.        החלה חמה השבת.

2.        למה את רצה השנה?

3.        הפעם הוּא גמר בננה.

חִירִיק = i

אִ – חִירִיק  chirik

A chirik  is pronounced   I

For example the Hebrew word for if is   “im” אִם.

In written Hebrew which does not contain dots, the letter  י     usually represents the vowel I  and is not pronounced “y”.

For example:  תיקים  tikim (bags) ,סיפור  sipur ( a story )

Many words in written, dotted Hebrew, which contain the sound “I“ will substitute the “I” sound with the letter  ” י”.

For example:

 גִּבּוֹר –גיבור( hero)

חִפֵּשׂ – חיפש (looked for)

חִלֵּק – חילק ( divided, handed out)

 Let’s practice.

Read these words.

שישי   – shishi   (Friday)

אִישׁ    – ish  (man)

 אִמָּא   – ima ( mother)

  מַצָּה    matzza–  (matzza)

 אִישִׁי – ishi – (privet)

מַצָּה    matzza–  (matzza)

 אִישִׁי – ishi – (privet)

צָעִיר   – tzair  (young)

 צֵירֵי סָגוֹל, חָטַף-סָגוֹל, או שְּׁוָא בראש מילה =e

אֵ = צֵירֵי.  tzere

אֶ = סָגוֹל segol

אֱ = חָטַף-סָגוֹל chataf segol

All these symbols are pronounced “e”.

For example: the Hebrew word for mother is אֵם em.

Let’s practice.

These words contain the tzere and segol. Read them.

יֶלֶד   – yeled  (boy)

שֶׁמֶשׁ   – shemesh (sun)

סֵמֶל   – semel (symbol)

עֶרֶב    erev (evening)

גבר    gever(man)

שלג  – sheleg ( snow)

2) The words below do not have lines and dots. Put the suitable signs according to the pronunciation, which appears in italics.

פריס   Paris

קיבל    kibel  ( received )

 קפיטריה   Cafiterya ( cafeteria )

זית    zayit (olive)

חביתה– chavita  (pancake)

 התעלף   – hit alef  (fainted)

חוֹלָם וְחָטַף קָמַץ = O

אֹ = חוֹלָם cholam

אֳ = חָטַף- קָמָץ chataf kamatz

These symbols are pronounced O.

 The Cholamusually appears above the letter “ו”, however it may be found above other letters as well.

For example: the Hebrew word for “light” is or אוֹר.

As explained earlier referring to the chirik, in dotted written Hebrew a “ו“ will not always be used as part of the cholam. When not dotted, a “ו”  will be used.

For example:

שָׁלֹשׁ – שלוש   shalosh (three)

חֹפֶשׁ – חופש chofesh  (freedom)

מְאֹד – מאוד    meod (very)

חֹדֶשׁ – חודש  chodesh  (month)

הַחֲטָף-קָמָץ( chataf kamatz) is also pronounced O.

אֳנִיָּה – This word should be pronounced oniya and not aniya as many people mistakably think.

Here are more examples:

תוכנית – תָּכְנִית  – tochnit (program)

קורבן – קָרְבָּן– korban ( sacrifice)

שׁוּרוּק וְקֻבּוּץ   = u

שׁוּרוּק = וּ = shuruk  ( The dot, which is used to specify the “u” sound, always appears with the letter “ו”.)

ְקֻבּוּץ = אֻ = kubutz

Here are examples:

סוכות – סֻכּוֹת  – sukut ( tabernacles)

מולבש – מֻלְבָּשׁ   – mulbash ( dressed)

מושלם – מֻשְׁלָם   – mushlam ( perfect)

פורסם – פֻּרְסַם   – pursam ( advertised )

אְ  – (shva) שְּׁוָוא

The last symbol we are going to deal with is the shva, which consists of two dots under the letter. The shva is not pronounced in a special way. The presence of the shva means there is no vowel after the dotted letter.

Here are examples:

 לַבְקָן   –  lavkan     (albino)

 כרטיס   – cartis  –   ( ticket ).

מזרח    mizrach   ( east)

Many words in dotted Hebrew do not contain any sign under some of the letters. It is assumed that there should be a shva under them. However, seems it has no unique way of pronunciation, it is not used.

The following chart summarizes all the nikud  symbols we have studied.

Pronunciation 

The name

The Symbol

a

patach, kamatz,         

chataf- patach

אַ, אָ, אֲ

e

tzerei,segol

אֵ, אֶ

i

chirik

אִ

o

Cholam, chataf- kamatz

אֹ, אֳ

u

Shuruk,kubutz

אוּ, אֻ

shva

אְ

dagesh

כּ

Let’s practice.

3)Put a suitable nikud symbol according to the correct pronunciation, which appears in italics.

Yerushalaimshelzahavירושלים של זהב.

Jerusalem of gold.

Yisrael, eretz ha´kodesh. ישראל ארץ הקודש.

Israel, the holy land.

Ha´sefer hu yedido ha´tov shel ha´adam.

הספר הוא ידידו הטוב של האדם.

The book is man´s best friend.

Part 2

More nikud symbols.

     dagesh  דָּגֵשׁ

The dagesh is a dot, which appears in the center of the letter. The meaning of the word “dagesh” is emphasis and this is the idea of this nikud symbol. For example, the letter  “פ” in the Hebrew word “הֲפָרָה”, meaning violation, is pronounced “f’ (hafara). By placing adagesh in the “פ” the pronunciation changes to “p” which changes the meaning of the word.“הַפָּרָה” -the cow. When reading dotted Hebrew words it is important to look out for thedagesh and pronounce the words accordingly. The dagesh changes the pronunciation of the letters:  ב, כ, פ.

ב = b  ב= v ,   פ = p  פ  = f  , כ = k  כ  =  ch)  Other letters containing a dagesh are pronounced the same way with or without it. The letters: ה,ח,א,ר,ע  will never contain this symbol.

There are many different rules concerning the dagesh, which will not be explained in this course.

מפיק   mapik

A dot, which appears in the letter ה at the end of a word is called a mapik. The mapik

specifies that this ה should be pronounced as a consonant ( h ) and not as part of the nikud sign which appears before it.

The mapik appears in the ה for a number of grammatical reasons. The most commonly used is to indicate the feminine possessive.

For example: – אִמָּא  mother –  אִמָּהּ  her mother. ((האם שלה

– אִשָּׁה woman –  אִשָׁהּ her man   (האיש שלה  )

–דּוֹדָה  aunt דּוֹדָהּ her uncle  ( הדוד שלה )

–סִירָה  boat-סִירָהּ  her pot ( הסיר שלה )

 שִׁין וְשִׂין(shin & sin)

The same letter is used to represent these two different sounds. What makes the difference is a small dot, which is placed above the letter. When the dot is on the left hand side of the ש it is pronounced  s. For example : שַׂר (sar ) meaning minister.

When the dot is on the right hand side of the ש it is pronounced sh. For example:  שָׁר,(shar ) meaning sang.

Here are some more examples:

 – שׁוֹשַׁנָּה rose    shoshana

 – שִׂמְחָה happiness  simcha

 – שָׁלֵם complete  shalem

 – שָׂם put   sam

 – שָׁם there  sham

Let’s practice.

4) Place suitable nikud symbols according to the correct pronunciation in italics. Remember to put the dot above the letter  ש  in its correct place.

ירושלים      Yerushalayim  (Jerusalem)

 שלם       shalem    ( whole )

שיש       shayish      (marble)

שחקן       sachkan       (actor)

משרד       misrad     (office)

ממשלה     memshala     (government)

שמלה            simla      (dress)

 5) Read out aloud the following words and place suitable nikud symbols accordingly.

ישראל

שלום

שבת  שלוש

שש

 The Letters

א.ה.ו.י

These letters have a double role: as consonants and as part of the nikud symbols.( as vowels) For example:  עִיתּוֹן–  The letter  י   is part of the chirik and therefore is not pronounced as a y sound. In the word ילד the י   functions as a consonant and is pronounced y.

In dotted Hebrew, the letters א ה  ו  י which do not contain nikud symbols, are not pronounced as consonants. They are silent.

6) Following are verses taken from the book of Psalms.

Place suitable nikud symbols according to the way you

pronounce the words in italics. You may use the chart

above. Choose any of the symbols which appear for the

suitable vowel.

בהצלחה      behatzlacha  ( good luck)

א) שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי.

ב) עֶזְרִי מֵעִם ה עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.

ג) אַל יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ אַל יָנוּם שֹׁמְרֶךָ.

ד) הִנֵּה לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן שׁוֹמֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל.

ה) ה שֹׁמְרֶךָ ה צִלְּךָ עַל יַד יְמִינֶךָ.

ו) יוֹמָם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא יַכֶּכָּה וְיָרֵחַ בַּלָּיְלָה.

ז) ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל רָע יִשְׁמֹר אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ.

 ח) ה יִשְׁמָר צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד

עוֹלָם.

Shir lama`alot. Esa einai el heharim:
me’ayin yavo ezri?

Ezri me’im Adonai
ose shamaim va’aretz.

Al yiten lamot ragleicha
al yanum shom’recha.

Hineh, lo yanum velo yishan
shomer yisrael.

A-onai/hashem shom’recha
A-onai/hashem tzil’cha al yad yeminecha.

Yomam hashemesh lo yakeka
veyare’ach balailah.

Adonai yishmor’cha mikol ra’ah
yishmor et nafshecha.

Adonai yishmor tzetcha uvo’echa
me’ata ve’ad olam.

    ( ה´ =   Hashem = God. No dots needed)

*********************************************************

Answer  Key 

Exercise no.1

1.      הַחַלָּה חַמָּה הַשַּׁבָּת.

2.      לָמָּה אַתְּ רָצָהּ הַשָּׁנָה?

3.      הַפַּעַם הוּא גָּמַר בָּנָנָה.

Exercise no.2

פָּרִיס      Paris

 קִבֵּל      kibel  ( received )

קָפִיטֶרְיָה      Cafiterya ( cafeteria )

זַיִת      zayit (olive)

חֲבִיתָה     chavita  (pancake)

הִתְעַלֵּף     hit alef  (fainted)

Exercise no.3

יְרוּשָׁלַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב

יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶרֶץ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ

הַכֶּלֶב הוּא יְדִידוֹ הַטּוֹב שֶׁל הָאָדָם

טוֹב שָׁכֵן קָרוֹב מֵאָח רָחוֹק

Exercise no.4

יְרוּשָׁלַיִם   Yerushalayim  (Jerusalem)

שָׁלֵם   shalem    ( whole )

שַׁיִשׁ    shayish      (marble)

שַׂחְקָן  sachkan      (actor)

מִשְׂרָד   misrad     (office)

מֶמְשָׁלָה   memshala     (government)

שִׂמְלָה    simla      (dress)

Exercise no.5

יִשְׂרָאֵל

שָׁלוֹם

 שַׁבָּת

שָׁלוֹשׁ

שֵׁשׁ

Exercise no.6

1.        שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת, אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבוֹא עֶזְרֵי.

2.        עֶזְרִי מֵעִם ה´ עוֹשֶׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.

3.        אַל יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ, אַל יָנוּם שׁוֹמְרֶךְ.

4.        הִנֵּה, לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישַׁן שׁוֹמֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל.

5.        ה´ שׁוֹמְרֶךְ, ה´ צִלְּךָ עַל יַד יְמִינֶךָ.

6.        יוֹמָם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא יַכֶּכָּה וְיָרֵחַ בַּלַּיְלָה.

7.        ה´ יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל רָע, יִשְׁמֹר אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ.

8.        ה´ יִשְׁמֹר צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ

Nikud is not easy but knowing the different symbols can be very useful for anybody who would like to read Hebrew.

We would be happy to receive your e-mails on this subject and answer any questions.

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