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This article is about the Semitic letter. For other uses, see Ayin (disambiguation).
Phonemic representation ʕ
Position in alphabet 18
Numerical value 70
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician

Ayin or Ayn is the sixteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician ʿAyin Phoenician ayin.svg, Hebrew ʿAyin ע, Aramaic ʿĒ Ayin.svg, Syriac ʿĒ ܥ, and Arabic ʿAyn ع (where it is sixteenth in abjadi order only). comes twenty‐first in the New Persian alphabet and eighteenth in Arabic hijaʾi order.

The ʿayin glyph in these various languages represents, or has represented, a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/), or a similarly articulated consonant, which has no equivalent or approximate substitute in the sound‐system of English. There are many possible transliterations.


The letter name is derived from Proto-Semitic *ʿayn- "eye", and the Phoenician letter had an eye-shape, ultimately derived from the ı͗r hieroglyph


To this day, ʿayin in Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, and Maltese means "eye" and "spring" (ʿayno in Neo-Aramaic).

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Ο, Latin O, and Cyrillic О, all representing vowels.

The sound represented by ayin is common to much of the Afrasiatic language family, such as the Egyptian, Cushitic, and Semitic languages. Some scholars believe that the sound in Proto-Indo-European transcribed h3 was similar, though this is debatable. (See Laryngeal theory.)


ʿAyin is usually transliterated into the Latin alphabet with ʿ, (U+02BF) "modifier letter left half ring" (in the Spacing Modifier Letters range). This is true in DIN 31635 romanization of Arabic. This symbol originated from Semitic romanization and Egyptological transliteration, where it was inspired by the Greek spiritus asper. Example: The name of the letter itself, ʿayin.

As a substitute for the left half ring, other symbols resembling it are sometimes used, such as a superscript c (c), ʻ (U+02BB Modifier letter turned comma) as in ALA-LC romanization of Arabic, a single opening quotation mark (‘) (U+2018), the grave accent (`), ˁ (U+02C1 Modifier letter reversed glottal stop), or the IPA pharyngeal symbols [ʕ] (U+0295 Latin letter pharyngeal voiced fricative) and [ˤ] (U+02E4 Modifier letter small reversed glottal stop). However, such substitutions obviously may cause confusion, such as with the glottal stop consonant hamza.

In loanwords, ʿayin is commonly omitted altogether. Examples: Iraq العراق al-ʿIrāq, Oman عمان ʿUmān, Saudi Arabia العربية السعودية al-ʿArabiyyah as-Saʿūdiyyah, Arab or Arabic عربي, ʿArabī, Amman عمان ʿAmmān, etc.

Specifically for use in transliterating the Egyptian language, (U+A724 Latin capital letter Egyptologican Ain) and (U+A725 Latin small letter Egyptologican Ain) were added to the Latin Extended-D range in Unicode version 5.1.

The Maltese language, which uses a Latin alphabet (and is the only Semitic language to do so in its standard form) writes the ayin as and is for the most part unvocalized in speech.

The Latin orthography for the Somali language represents the ʿayin with the ordinary Roman letter c.

The informal way to represent it in Arabic chat alphabet uses the digit 3 as transliteration.

Hebrew Ayin

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
ע ע ע Hebrew letter Ayin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Ayin Rashi.png

Hebrew spelling: עַיִן

Ayin, along with Aleph, Resh, and Heth, cannot receive a dagesh.

Phonetic representation

Ayin has traditionally been described as a voiced pharyngeal fricative ([ʕ]). However, this may be imprecise. Although a pharyngeal fricative has occasionally been observed for ayin in Arabic, and so therefore may occur in Hebrew as well, the sound is more commonly epiglottal ([ʢ]),[1] and may also be a pharyngealized glottal stop ([ʔˤ]).

In some historical Sephardi and Ashkenazi pronunciations, ʿayin represented a velar nasal ([ŋ]) sound, as in English singing.[citation needed] Remnants of this can be found in the Yiddish pronunciations of some words such as /ˈjaŋkəv/ and /ˈmansə/ from Hebrew יַעֲקֹב (yaʿăqōḇ, "Jacob") and מַעֲשֶׂה (maʿăse, "story"), but in other cases the nasal has disappeared and been replaced by /j/, such as /ˈmajsə/ and /ˈmajrəv/ from Hebrew מַעֲשֶׂה and מַעֲרָב (maʿărāḇ, "west"). In Israeli Hebrew (except for Mizrahi pronunciations) it represents a glottal stop in certain cases, but is mostly silent (that is, it behaves the same as aleph). However, often changes in adjoining vowels testify to the former presence of a pharyngeal or epiglottal articulation. As well, it may be used as a shibboleth to identify the social background of a speaker, as Mizrahim and Arabs tend to use the more traditional glottal stop in almost all cases.

Ayin is also one of the three letters that can take a furtive patach / patach ganuv.

In Hebrew loanwords in Greek and Latin, ayin is sometimes reflected as /g/, since the biblical phonemes /ʕ/ (or "ʿ") and /ʁ/ (represented by "g") were both represented in Hebrew writing by the letter ʿayin (see Ġain). Because of this, we get Gomorrah from the original /ʁamora/ (modern ʿAmora) and Gaza from the original /ʁazza/ (ʿAza) (although Gaza is Ghaza in Arabic).

In Yiddish, the ʿÁyin is used to write the vowel E (when not part of the diphthong ey).


In gematria, ayin represents the number 70.

Ayin is also one of the seven letters which receive special crowns (called tagin) when written in a Sefer Torah.

Because the sound is difficult for most non-Arabs to pronounce, it is often used as a shibboleth by Arabic-speakers; other sounds, such as Ḥā and Ḍād are also used.[citation needed]

Arabic ʿAyn

Not to be confused with ء (hamzah) looking similar to, and derived from, initial عـ

The Arabic letter (called ﻋﻴﻦ ʿayn) is the eighteenth letter of the alphabet. It is written in one of several ways depending on its position in the word:

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ع‎ ـع‎ ـعـ‎ عـ‎


ʿAyn, coming from the middle of the throat, is one of the most common letters in Arabic and one of the most notoriously difficult sounds for Western learners to pronounce or hear. One piece of advice for people trying to make the ʿayn sound is to "sing the lowest possible note, then one lower". Due to its position as the innermost letter to emerge from the throat, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, who wrote the first Arabic dictionary, actually started writing with ʿayn as the first letter instead of the eighteenth; he viewed its origins deep down in the throat as a sign that it was the first sound, the essential sound, the voice and a representation of the self.[2]

Depending on the region, the Arabic ʿayn ranges from a pharyngeal [ʕ] to an epiglottal [ʢ].[1]

In Persian language and other languages using the Perso-Arabic script, it is pronounced as /ʔ/, and rarely as /ʁ/ in some languages.

As in Hebrew, the letter originally stood for two sounds, the other being /ʕ/ and /ʁ/. When pointing was developed, ġayn was distinguished with a dot on top (غ) for /ʁ/. In Maltese, which is written with the Latin alphabet, the digraph , which is known by its Arabic name ʿajn, is used to write what was originally the same sound.

Character encodings

Character ע ع ܥ
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 1506 U+05E2 1593 U+0639 1829 U+0725 2063 U+080F 7461 U+1D25
UTF-8 215 162 D7 A2 216 185 D8 B9 220 165 DC A5 224 160 143 E0 A0 8F 225 180 165 E1 B4 A5
Numeric character reference ע ע ع ع ܥ ܥ ࠏ ࠏ ᴥ ᴥ
Character 𐎓 𐡏 𐤏
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 66451 U+10393 67663 U+1084F 67855 U+1090F
UTF-8 240 144 142 147 F0 90 8E 93 240 144 161 143 F0 90 A1 8F 240 144 164 143 F0 90 A4 8F
UTF-16 55296 57235 D800 DF93 55298 56399 D802 DC4F 55298 56591 D802 DD0F
Numeric character reference 𐎓 𐎓 𐡏 𐡏 𐤏 𐤏


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ladefoged, Peter & Ian Maddieson (1996). The sounds of the world’s languages. Oxford: Blackwells. ISBN 0-631-19814-8
  2. Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual, pg. 178. Cornell Studies in Political Economy. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. ISBN 9780801427640

External links