Arabic Language Blog

(1) Arabic Diacritics (Al-Tashkeel الـتـشـكـيـــل ) Posted by on Jul 23, 2011 in Arabic Language, Grammar, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

        A diacritic التشكيل is an additional mark or sign added to a letter. The term is derived from Greek and means “distinguishing”. Diacritic is both a noun or an adjective whereas diacritical is only an adjective. Diacritical marks may appear above or below a letter or in some other position such as between two letters.

         The main use of diacritics is to change the sound value of the letter to which they are added but they may also perform other functions. In orthography, a letter modified by a diacritic maybe treated either as a new distinct letter or as a letter-diacritic combination. This varies from language to language and may vary from case to case within a language.

         The Arabic script has many diacritics including i’jaam الإعجام or consonant pointing (using dots to distinguish similar letters), and tashkeel التشكيل (including the Harakaat الحركات , the Tanween التنوين and the Shad’dah الشدّة ) and other vowel marks.

       The Arabic script is an impure abjad* where short consonants and long vowels are represented by letters but short vowels and consonant length are not usually indicated in writing. So, tashkeel is optional to represent missing vowels and consonant length.

        The literal meaning of tashkeel التشكيل is “forming” or “shaping”. As the Arabic text does not provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of tashkeel (and Harakaat الحركات = motions) is to provide a phonetic guide or help with the correct pronunciation especially for children learning to read or foreign learners. The majority of Arabic script is written without harakaat (or short vowels). However, they are commonly used in some religious texts that demand strict adherence to correct pronunciation rules. Harakaat are also used in ordinary texts when an ambiguity of pronunciation might arise. Vowelled Arabic dictionaries provide information about the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers. Short vowels can be included in cases where readers can not easily resolve word ambiguity from context alone. Some online bilingual dictionaries also provide harakaat as a phonetic guide similarly to English dictionaries providing transcription.


To be continued ….

(Note: The term abjad أبجد refers to any type of writing system in which each symbol always or usually refers to consonant and the reader must supply the appropriate vowel. The name abjad itself derives from the Arabic word for Alphabet.)


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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.


  1. Naima:

    I learnt Arabic plus the calligraphy many years ago , the tashkeel is the icing on the cake and I have now learnt what these markings are called