This article is about the Semitic letter. For other uses, see Ayin (disambiguation).


Phonemic representation ʕ
Position in alphabet


(9 in Maltese)
Numerical value


(no numeric value in Maltese)
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician




Ayin or Ayn is the sixteenth letter of the Semitic abjad, including Phoenician ʿayin , Hebrew ʿayin ע, Aramaic ʿē , Syriac ʿē ܥ, and Arabic ʿayn ع (where it is sixteenth in abjadi order only). comes twenty‐first in the Persian alphabet and eighteenth in the hijaʾi order of Arabic.

The ʿayin glyph in these various languages represents or used to represent a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/) or a similarly articulated consonant, of which there is not even an approximate substitute sound in 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, and Amharic means "eye" and "spring" (ʿayno in Neo-Aramaic) but in Maltese it additionally also means "aid".

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 Afroasiatic language family, such as in the Egyptian language, the Cushitic languages and the Semitic languages. Some scholars believe that the sound in Proto-Indo-European transcribed h3 was similar, but that 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), such as in the DIN 31635 romanization of Arabic. This symbol originated from Semitic romanization and the transliteration of Ancient Egyptian. There, it was inspired by the Greek rough breathing mark.

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: 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 Ancient Egyptian, (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.

Maltese, which uses a Latin alphabet, the only Semitic language to do so in its standard form, writes the ayin as . It is usually unvocalized in speech.

The Somali Latin alphabet represents the ʿayin with the letter c.

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

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


Arabic ʿayn 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.[1]

Depending on the region, the Arabic ʿayin ranges from a pharyngeal [ʕ] to an epiglottal [ʢ].[2]

In Persian language and other languages using the Persian alphabet, it is pronounced as /ʔ/ (glottal stop), and rarely as /ʁ/ in some languages.

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

Hebrew Ayin

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
ע ע ע

Hebrew spelling: עַיִן

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

Phonetic representation

ʿayin has traditionally been described as a voiced pharyngeal fricative ([ʕ]). However, this may be imprecise. Although a pharyngeal fricative has occasionally been observed for ʿayin in Arabic and so may occur in Hebrew as well, the sound is more commonly epiglottal ([ʢ]),[2] and may also be a pharyngealized glottal stop ([ʔˤ]).

In some historical Sephardi and Ashkenazi pronunciations, ʿayin represented a velar nasal ([ŋ]). Remnants 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 usually silent (it behaves the same as aleph). However, changes in adjoining vowels often 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 almost always use the more traditional pronunciation.

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

In Hebrew loanwords in Greek and Latin, ʿayin 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). Gomorrah is from the original /ʁamora/ (modern ʿAmora) and Gaza from the original /ʁazza/ (ʿaza) (although Gaza is Ghaza in Arabic).

In Yiddish, the ʿayin is used to write the vowel e when it is not part of the diphthong ey.


In gematria, ʿayin represents the number 70.

ʿayin 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.

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. 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
  2. 1 2 Ladefoged, Peter & Ian Maddieson (1996). The sounds of the world’s languages. Oxford: Blackwells. ISBN 0-631-19814-8

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