: Lesson 0

This should be the easiest Arabic alphabet lesson ever. OK...

Arabic Alphabet by Carl Kenner, part 1

The Egyptian Arabic word for THE is IL. |1

Arabic is written right to left, so the Arabic word IL is written exactly the same as in the English alphabet, only backwards.

IL = ال

With the I on the right as a vertical stroke, followed by a backwards capital L on the left. The vertical stroke letter is called Alif, and at the start of a word it can represent any vowel sound, in this case the "i" sound. But in the middle of a word it represents a long "ah" or "a" (in cat) sound, and at the end of a word it represents the "ah" sound.

Arabic is always written in cursive, but the Alif can’t connect to the letter after it (after it means on the left), because then it would look like an L. However both I and L can connect to the letter before them. Although if there is a letter before the Alif it is normally pronounced as "Ah" rather than "i". In Arabic there is no space between "il" and the word following it, they are written together as a single word, in cursive. I and L are very easily recognised in Arabic.

Outside Egypt, the word IL is pronounced AL.

The Egyptian Arabic word for son is ibn. It comes from the word bin in names like Bin Laden which also means son of.|2

The Egyptian Arabic word for daughter is bint. It is just bin with the feminine t ending.|3

The Egyptian Arabic word for a third is tilt.|4

Most other Arabic letters just look like a squiggly line with dots above and below. The line is caused by the fact that it is cursive, and the letters are usually joined at the bottom, and unlike I and L, most aren’t very tall.

The simplest squiggle looks like a short lowercase english letter "i", but it can have one, two, or three dots above it instead of just one.

ﺜ ﺘ ﻨ

It will be a consonant. To tell which consonant, count the number of dots.

One = N like in \"one\".|5

Two = T like in \"two\".|6

Three = TH like in \"three\".|7

You can also have a dot below the i.

Below = B like in \"below\".|8

ﺒ ﺜ ﺘ ﻨ

Sometimes the dots are slightly to the left of the i. And at the end of a word, or when it can’t connect to the next letter, it is written with a flourishy tail on the left. The tail goes to the left along the line and then curls up.

But the letter N is different from the others, because its flourishy tail goes down deeper, below the line:

ﻦ ﺖ

So, reading from right to left, what is this word:

ابن

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Except for at the start of a word (like in "ibn" or "il"), or where the vowel is really long, people don’t normally write vowels in Arabic. They just write the consonants and you have to guess which vowels go between them, if any.

So what’s this word?

بنت

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Right. Start on the right with a lowercase i with the dot below for B, then to the left you cursively go into an i with one dot above for N, then you cursively go into another i with two dots above for T, then you cursively go into a flourishy tail to the left and up. Note that when it has a flourishy tail, the two dots are written further to the left than normal, so they are closer to the middle of the tail. The vowel is never written anywhere.

What would you expect this word to be?

ثلث

The middle letter is the letter L. It is harder to recognise in the middle of the word, because the bottom of the L looks just like any other cursive link. But if it was the Alif then it would not have that line and would not be linked to the next letter.

The first and last letter are the lowercase i with three dots, so it should be "th-l-th", but in the Egyptian dialect it is pronounced "t-l-t". This is the word tilt that we learnt. It means a third, like in a third of an hour. If you are learning the Egyptian dialect, the "th" and the "t" sound the same, and you may have trouble remembering how to spell a word. So just remember, the word "third" and the word "three" both use the "th" sound of three dots, in English AND in Arabic.

Add a y (pronounced ee) to the end of any Egyptian Arabic noun to mean my.|11

The Egyptian Arabic word for my son is ibny (pronounced ib-nee).|12

The Egyptian Arabic word for my daughter is binty.|13

The Egyptian Arabic word for what is ay? (pronounced like in say) |14

The Arabic letter Y looks just like the English lowercase letter "y", if it was rounded like in handwriting, but it is rotated 90 degrees and lying on its back, like this:

ی or ﯽ‎

You may need to turn your head, your page, or your computer screen 90 degrees to see the y shape.

Note that unless the letter is written by itself (the first one), the top of the letter is level with the line and the letter is almost entirely below the line, like the second one. Although it doesn’t really look that way if you are using the Tahoma font. In other fonts the second one looks more like a y and does not go up above the line.

This letter will almost always have two dots underneath it, except when it is used to write Indo-European languages. So it will normally look like this in Arabic:

ي‎ or ﻲ‎

The two dots under it are very important, because sometimes the letter "y" loses its y shape! It only looks like a y when it is not connected to the letter after it. When it is connected in cursive to the letter after it, it is drastically simplified, until it looks exactly the same as the short lowercase letter i we learned before. When it is simplified to a lowercase i, you can still recognise it because it has two dots below the i.

ﻴ ﻱ ﻲ

They are all the letter Y in Arabic. So don’t forget to make a mental note that there is another letter that sometimes looks like a lowercase i.

In both English and Arabic, Y is both a consonant and a vowel. In Arabic, it can only be the Y in happy, or the Y in Yes. It can never be the Y in sky. As a vowel it is always a long "ee" sound.

You can use it like this:

ابني

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The Y on the end is the tag that means "my". It should be fairly easy to remember "my" is Y because "my" ends with Y. It sounds like "ee" in Arabic though.

What’s this word?

بنتي

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The Arabic word "ay" that you learnt means "what?" is written as a vowel followed by Y, just like the "ay" in the English word "day" or "say". The Arabic word "ay" meaning "what" looks like this:

اي

A vertical stroke on the right for the letter Alif, followed on the left by the lowercase y lying on its back with two dots under it. "Ay". Shouldn’t be too hard to remember, since some people say "what" like that in English too.

The Egyptian Arabic word for April is Abryl, because Arabic has no letter P!|17

Which means the Egyptian Arabic words for the pizza are il bytza.|18

Speaking of lowercase letters that have been rotated, the letter R in Arabic looks like a lowercase r that has been rotated 180 degrees. So it will be upside down and pointing to the left. Imagine a lowercase letter "r" nailed to a sign by two nails and the top nail falls out so it swings around upside down. It can either start from the line and curve down then to the left below the line, or it can start a bit above the line and curve down and to the left still going below the line. Because this letter always ends well below the line, it can never connect to the letter after it. It is still connected to the letter before it. Here is what it looks like:

ر‎

So now you should be able to work out this word with an "r" in it:

ابريل

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Don’t forget that the i with two dots under it is a Y. It doesn’t look like a y here because it is in the middle of the word, but its two dots give it away.

It is the word "Abryl" which you learnt is the name of the month "April" in Arabic (because Arabic has no letter P).

You can change the letter R into another letter by putting a dot above it. The dot is actually a zit, so it changes it into the letter Z (Zee or Zed). You will notice that the r looks kind of like a nose, so it looks like a nose with a zit above it, to make it the letter Z. The Z looks like this:

ز

Here it is in a word (actually two words):

البيتزا

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The first word is "il" meaning "the", which you will remember I said joins onto the start of the following word. It says "I L B Y T Z I". The Y is the "ee" sound here. So the second word is "bytza". Unlike the "Alif" at the beginning of the word, the Alif on the end is always going to be the "ah" sound. I’m sure you remember that il bytza means the pizza in Arabic. Don’t forget that it’s spelt and pronounced T Z in Arabic. In English it’s pronounced like T S.

The Egyptian Arabic word for book is kitaab (aa means the ah sound).|21

The Egyptian Arabic word for kebab is kebaab.|22

The Egyptian Arabic word for bank is bank.|23

The Arabic letter K looks kind of like the right hand side of a letter K, , without the stalk on the left hand side. So it just looks like a less-than sign. But it has a cursive line underneath it, linking it to the letter before and the letter after. This makes it look like an English letter S with a flat bottom and an angular top. But the S is in fact a K.

But at the end of a word or when it can’t link to the next letter, it does something really strange! At the end of the word it is written inside a big Arabic letter L. So it looks like a backwards L with an S inside. But it is still a K. The L is just a flourishy tail that the K hides inside of.

So what are these words?

الكتاب

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You learnt book is "Kitaab". The long "a" sound is written with the letter Alif, the vertical stroke. Remember the Alif will join to the letter before it (t here) but not to the letter after it (in this case b), otherwise it would be an L.

And these words?

الكباب

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Kebab also has a long "a" sound in Arabic. Kebaab. Only one letter difference. Note that in both cases, you still spell it "il kebab" even if you pronounce it "ik kebab".

And what’s this?

البنك

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The S shaped K is inside the L because it is at the end of a word.

The Egyptian Arabic ending for your is ak or ik depending on whether \"you\" is a man or a woman.|27

So what does this MEAN in English?

بنتك

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There is no way to know whether it ends in ak or ik because they look exactly the same when you leave out the vowels. That said "bintik" or "bintak".

The Egyptian Arabic word for possible or can is mumkin.|29

The Egyptian Arabic word for from is min.|30

The Egyptian Arabic word for office is maktab.|31

The letter M looks like a mouth. A very small mouth though.

Basically it just loops around in a tiny circle. Sometimes the mouth will be open in the top left corner, depending on the font.

But at the end of a word the mouth starts to drool and dribble in a long stream. There is a long vertical line coming down from the left hand side of the M. This is it’s version of the flourishy tail, but it goes straight down. You can think of it as a mouth on the end of a stick if you prefer. The vertical line going down is very distinctive, because other letters don’t have it. But it is only used at the end of a word, or when the following letter can’t link to it.

Here are three M’s in a row, at the beginning, middle and end of a word:

ﻣﻤﻢ

If your web browser is using the Tahoma font, which is quite likely, the last M will not look very typical. It normally has a long straight stick. Other Arabic fonts are better.

What are these words?

ممكن

من

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You may also see the longer word "miin" meaning "who" written the same way. The reason the longer one isn’t spelt with a Y is because it is pronounced with a different short vowel sound in other dialects.

What’s this word?

مكتب

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The Egyptian Arabic word for sugar is sukkar.

The Egyptian Arabic word for cinema is synema.

The Egyptian Arabic word for name is ism.

The Egyptian Arabic word for tea is shaay.

The Arabic letter S looks like a lowercase English w.

That may seems silly, until you realise that a Greek capital letter Sigma Σ (S) also looks like a W but rotated 90 degrees:

Σ

Russian also uses a W to represent S, like this:

Ш

And so does Hebrew:

ש

In fact, all alphabets going back to Etruscan, use W for S.

This S is the "silly S", the normal English S in the word "silly", pronounced at the front of the mouth.

At the end of a word, or when it can’t connect to the next letter, S gets a flourishy tail, just like those lowercase i’s (particularly like the N).

What are these words?

السكر

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Note that double letters aren’t written down in Arabic. Two K’s in a row will be written as one. And it is written as "il sukkar" even though it is pronounced "is sukkar".

What do these say?

اسمي

السينما

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You can change the S into SH by adding three dots. That’s the same way we got the TH, using the same three dots. The dots are arranged in the same triangle shape, but they are always over the W and never over the tail. So here is SH:

ﺸ ﺶ

Here are two words you should recognise:

الشاي

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Remember how the "ay" meaning "what" looked? This is "il shaay", which you learnt means "the tea".

The Arabic letter J looks like the English letter J but backwards. Only it is a cross between a capital J and a lowercase j. It has the stroke across the top of a capital J, and also the dot of the lowercase j. The dot goes INSIDE the J rather than on top.

ﺞ ﺝ

You may have heard some people say there was no J sound in Arabic. Actually there is no J sound in the EGYPTIAN dialect, but the other dialects all have a normal English J sound. For example the Hajj means the famous pilgrimage to Mecca. Jihad means crusade (in any sense of the word) or literally "The Struggle". So there is definately a J in Arabic, and this is it.

In Egypt the J is pronounced like the letter G instead. So they say "Hagg" and "Gihad". There is no letter G in Arabic. So all those G sounds you learned in Egyptian Arabic are spelt with a J. For example Gamal (meaning Camel) is spelt "Jamal" with a J, and pronounced "Jamal" outside Egypt. In English we obviously borrowed the Egyptian pronounciation.

Unfortunately the J only looks like a J when it is at the end of a word, or when the previous letter can’t link to it. Because when it is in the middle of a word, the bottom is chopped off. The dot is still there below the letter though. So with the bottom chopped off, it looks like this:

Much harder to recognise as a J. At the start of a word, it doesn’t have that bit in the bottom right connecting it to the previous word, so it looks like this:

Now it looks a bit like a squashed J, with a dot under it. Although to me J looks more like a wave breaking when it is not at the end of a word.

So here is the word "Jamal" (Which Egyptians pronounce Gamal) meaning Camel:

جمل

And the very similar word "Jamyl" (Gamyl) meaning beautiful:

جميل

If you remove the dot from the J it stops being a J, and starts being a very breathy H. With no dot it is the H described as breathing on your glasses. It is the H in MaHmoud. In English it is often written as a capital H. It is different from the ordinary English h and different from the KH sound from European languages. Here are four H’s in a row:

ﺣﺤﺢ ﺡ

What is this word?

حج

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Note that double letters are never written down in Arabic. The first one has no dot, so it is a capital H, and the second one has a dot inside, so it is a J.

There is also another change you can make to this letter. If you put a dot ABOVE the letter, instead of in the middle or below like the J, then it becomes a KH instead of just a H. The KH is much easier for English speakers to say, because it is the KH or CH in European languages like German, or Dutch:

ﺧﺨﺦ ﺥ

For example, look at the word for "my brother" (akhuya). Note that the -ya ending is written exactly the same as the -ee ending, with a Y, because the vowel on the end isn’t written. In this case the Y is a consonant rather than a vowel. Here is how you write "my brother":

أخي

Here the Alif has a mark above it. You can ignore the mark, because it just indicates that the word starts with a glottal stop. A glottal stop is basically silent. English speakers won’t notice any difference between a word starting with a glottal stop and a word starting with a vowel. But the difference is that a glottal stop means the vowel starts more suddenly, rather than gradually like it normally would.

Can you spell this yourself?

أخي

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The Arabic letter W looks like the English number 9. The round version of the number 9, that is:

But it has two different sounds. It could be a W, or it could be a Double U, or in other words, two U’s in a row, for a long uu sound. It can never be 9 U’s in a row though, even though it looks like the number 9. Only two U’s. For example it is used to write the long uu sound in suuq (market). It can also be the long or/aw sound, so it is used to write the "or" in the Arabic word for cola. Sometimes it is written as a double O in English, but really it is a double U. So this W letter is a lot like the letter Y you learned before. It is both a consonant and a long vowel.

Here is the word for and, which is we (not pronounced wii) in Arabic:

و

It is just the single letter W because the vowel is not written.

Because the letter W ends way below the line, it can never connect cursively to the letter after it. But it connects to the letter before it.

Before I can show you the word for cola, you need to learn a special letter combination that is written differently. That is the sound laa. That is an L followed by an Alif. You would expect laa to look like this:

ﻟﺎ

But you would be wrong! The L and the Alif are never written like that. Instead they are squashed together into a single letter. With the L sort of normal while the Alif is sticking out diagonally from the corner of the L. It looks like this:

or sometimes it looks like the L is tipped over to the left, while the A following it is tipped over to the right, so they intersect near the bottom. Unfortunately, I can’t show you laa in a different font.

That is also how the word laa meaning no would be written. But it also for that combination inside any other word. Here is the word for cola:

كولا

Note that the W is like a double O here.

The time you really need to watch out for "la" is when you have the word "il" meaning "the", followed by a word that begins with a vowel. This will need to be written with the L and Alif joined together.

Can you spell this full word:

كوكا كولا

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The Arabic letter q looks just like the English lowercase letter q. But in Arabic it looks like it is sitting down. The stem of the q bends around to the left and then up again. Kind of like the tail on the Arabic N. It is important not to confuse the q with the 9 shaped letter you just learned. To help prevent confusion, the q has two dots above it, like this:

Note that it is not just a W with two dots above it. It is also quite a different shape from the 9. And unlike the 9, the q DOES connect to the letter after it. So in the middle of a word, the q looses its tail, and will only be sitting up a little bit above the line. Or in some fonts it may be sitting on the line. Or it may just look like a ribbon shaped loop with two dots above it. Here is what q looks like in the middle of a word:

The Tahoma font goes with the loop, while another other font went with the sitting-up q (at least on my computer). I prefer the sitting-up q style.

Anyway, the q is not pronounced kw like it is in English. In Arabic q is the hard K sound, but different from the normal K. Kind of like the silly S and the sorry S distinction that Arabic also has. This would be the "sorry" K. It is the K sound in Qatar, Al Qaeda, and the Quran (sometimes written koran in English).

But in the Egyptian dialect the Q is almost silent, and it is pronounced like a glottal stop. You remember the glottal stop from before? So in Egypt they would say il ’aeda instead of al Qaeda. This is the letter at the end of suuq (market) which they say and write as soo’. Here is how to write suuq in Arabic (with a double U in the middle):

سوق

Read this:

السوق

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There is another letter that looks almost the same as Q, which is F. There are two main differences: the F only has a single dot above it, and the F is lying down flat with it’s feet up, while the q is sitting. So F looks like this:

Notice how F is much flatter than the q.

In the middle of a word, F looks like this:

And at the start, it looks like this:

So here is the word Falafel (with a long aa in the middle):

فلافل

Notice the "la" in the middle. La doesn’t connect to the letter after it, so the f in the middle looks the same as the f at the beginning.

Here is the word fy (fi) meaning "in":

في

Can you guess this word, which is the word for farmer (it ends with the breathing on your glasses H):

فلاح

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Make sure to get the number of dots right. Remember it is two for q. Which rhymes.

Now let’s learn another letter. This is a letter so horrible and hard to pronounce, it is known only as... THE DENTIST! I really hate this letter. Actually you might remember that it is called `ain (pronounced like german ein). But in Michel Thomas it’s normally referred to as the dentist. This is not like a glottal stop. It is like you are being strangled while saying the neighbouring vowels.

It is often written as a superscript letter c.

In arabic it is also written like a lowercase letter c. At the start of a word, it looks like this:

But when it is written by itself, it gets a flourishy tail like this:

So that it looks like a backwards number 3.

But in the middle of the word, or at the end of a word, something very unfortunate happens to the c. You see, when you write the c in cursive so that it links to the letter before it, in order to write the c without lifting your pen, the c ends up looking like a loop rather than like a c. For example here is the dentist letter `ain written in the middle of a word:

Notice how it looks just like the f and the q in the middle of a word, but without any dots? It is not an f or a q, it is the c-shaped ain, cursed by the cursive script to look like a loop instead of itself.

At the end of the word it should have a flourishy tail that makes it look like a backwards 3, but because it is connected to the letter before, it looses its c shape again:

All this makes it harder to read, but much easier to write, which is of course why it is written that way.

In English `ain can be written as a backwards apostrophe, or as a c superscript.

Here is the arabic word "with" (maCa):

مع

The vowels are not written, but the `ain still is.

Another equally bad letter is the letter ghain. It is the GH sound from Arabic words "Ghoul" and "Ghana", but it sounds more like a distorted letter R. Ghain is written exactly the same as `ain, but with a dot above it. So ghain is a c with a dot:

Unfortunately, because it has a dot above it, and in the middle of a word it looks like a loop, that makes it basically identical to the letter F in the middle of a word! Here is the letter ghain and the letter F in the middle of a word:

ﻐ ﻔ

The ghain is on the right. The difference between the two depends on the font.

Here is the word for "busy", "mashghuul":

مشغول

Can you guess a much less confusing word for an African country:

غانا

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The Arabic letter D looks kind of like the dotless, lowercase i. But it is more diagonal. And it is longer. The diagonal stroke of the D should be reasonably distinctive. Also note that it doesn’t connect to the letter after it, although it still has a line along the bottom. It looks like this:

د‎

Here is the word for manager, mudyr:

Here is the word for the sandwich:

السندويتش

It says "Il sandwytsh". It uses tsh instead of ch.

Can you read this word (it is the word for manager):

مدير

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You can also put a dot above the D. The dot changes it into a TH sound, like in the English word "the". Now maybe you are thinking "didn’t we already learn the TH letter??". Most English speakers don’t realise that English actually has TWO different TH sounds. But English spells them both the same way. Arabic spells them differently. The TH sound in "three" is different from the TH sound in "the".

Say the contraction "this’ll" (this will) and then say the plant "thistle". The only difference is the TH sound at the beginning. "Thistle" has the same TH sound in "three". But "this’ll" has the same TH sound as "the". Another example is the word "sooth" and the word "soothe". The only difference is the TH sound at the end. "sooth" has the "three" TH, but "soothe" has the "the" TH. Try saying "theocracy" and then saying "the ocracy" as if there was such a thing as ocracy.

So this letter:

ذ

Is the sound in: the, this, that, then, them, soothe, lathe, loathe, either, smooth, breathe etc.

But this letter:

ث

Is the sound in: three, thin, thing, thought, sooth, tooth, thistle, growth, both, etc.

When they transcribe the D with a dot above it in the English alphabet, they write it as DH, while the THree dots are written as TH.

But in Egypt they can’t pronounce either of those TH sounds. For TH they say T and for DH they say D.

There is one last normal letter, and it is a bit hard to read because it changes its shape. It is the letter h. This is the normal h, exactly like in English.

This letter always looks like some kind of a knot or bow. I don’t know of any reason for that. But if you write three of them in a row, then one by itself, it looks like this:

ههه ه

At the start it looks like some kind of knot, then in the middle it looks like a bow, then at the end it looks like a string sticking up with some kind of loop tied in it. By itself it looks like a circle. h is a very hard letter.

Here is the word for he, huwwa:

هو

Note that it leaves out the vowels so it is just h w.

Can you read this word (it's the word for she):

هي

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To say "his" you add the ending -uh on the end. You probably didn’t notice the h on the end when you listened to it and only noticed the U. But it has a u followed by an h. So his son is ibnuh. Without the vowels, it is written like this:

ابنه

To say "her" you add the ending -haa on the end. It has a double length vowel, so you write it with an h then an Alif on the end:

ابنها

You don’t write in the helping vowels, since you don’t write in vowels at all.

Well, that’s all the normal, silly letters done. And we have also done the heavy H and the heavy K sounds. Now we have to do the "sorry" letters. They are the heavier versions of the "silly" letters. So there is sorry T, sorry S, sorry D and sorry DH/Z. The sorry letters all have a folded over bit on the right hand side.

Sorry T looks just like an English capital T, but it is upside down. And it has a folded over bit on the right. It looks like this:

ط‎

"Tomatos" has two sorry T’s in it in Arabic:

طماطم

It is tomaatim.

Here is `aTshaan, meaning thirsty:

عطشان

It begins with `ain.

"Potatoes" has two sorry Ts and one silly S in it. It is written like this:

بطاطس

It is baTaaTeS.

You can make it into the TH sound of "the" (transcribed as DH in the English alphabet) by adding a dot above the right hand side.

ظ

This can either be pronounced as the TH of "the", or as a sorry Z (zee or zed). But Egyptians say it the same as a sorry D, because they can’t say TH.

Here is "naDDara", it means "glasses" (for your eyes):

نظار

It has the sorry DH, but you learnt it as sorry D.

The Sorry S also has the folded over part on the right hand side, but it has no vertical stroke. It looks like this:

ﺼ‎

At the end of a word, or when it can’t connect to the following letter, it gets a flourishy tail like a normal s does, like this:

ص

If you add a dot to the sorry S, it becomes a D for Dot. The dot makes it a D. So sorry D looks like this:

ﻀ‎

Can you guess this word with sorry S:

مصر

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