The Arabic script has numerous diacritics, including i'jam ⟨⟩ - i'j?m, consonant pointing and tashkil ⟨⟩ - tashk?l, supplementary diacritics. The latter include the ?arak?t ⟨⟩ vowel marks - singular: ?arakah ⟨?⟩.
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 generally indicated in writing. Tashk?l is optional to represent missing vowels and consonant length. Modern Arabic is always written with the i'j?m - consonant pointing, but only religious texts, children's books and works for learners are written with the full tashk?l - vowel guides and consonant length.
The literal meaning of tashk?l is 'forming'. As the normal Arabic text does not provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of tashk?l (and ?arak?t) is to provide a phonetic guide or a phonetic aid; i.e. show the correct pronunciation. It serves the same purpose as furigana (also called "ruby") in Japanese or pinyin or zhuyin in Mandarin Chinese for children who are learning to read or foreign learners.
The bulk of Arabic script is written without ?arak?t (or short vowels). However, they are commonly used in texts that demand strict adherence to exact wording. This is true, primarily, of the Qur'an ⟨⟩ (al-Qur'?n) and poetry. It is also quite common to add ?arak?t to hadiths ⟨⟩ (al-?ad?th; plural: ad?th) and the Bible. Another use is in children's literature. Moreover, ?arak?t are used in ordinary texts in individual words when an ambiguity of pronunciation cannot easily be resolved from context alone. Arabic dictionaries with vowel marks provide information about the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers. In art and calligraphy, ?arak?t might be used simply because their writing is considered aesthetically pleasing.
An example of a fully vocalised (vowelised or vowelled) Arabic from the Basmala:
Bismi Ll?hi r-Ra?m?ni r-Rami
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful...
Some Arabic textbooks for foreigners now use ?arak?t as a phonetic guide to make learning reading Arabic easier. The other method used in textbooks is phonetic romanisation of unvocalised texts. Fully vocalised Arabic texts (i.e. Arabic texts with ?arak?t/diacritics) are sought after by learners of Arabic. Some online bilingual dictionaries also provide ?arak?t as a phonetic guide similarly to English dictionaries providing transcription.
The ?arak?t, which literally means 'motions', are the short vowel marks. There is some ambiguity as to which tashk?l are also ?arak?t; the tanw?n, for example, are markers for both vowels and consonants.
The fat?ah ⟨?⟩ is a small diagonal line placed above a letter, and represents a short /a/ (like the initial sound in English word "up"). The word fat?ah itself (?) means opening and refers to the opening of the mouth when producing an /a/. For example, with d?l (henceforth, the base consonant in the following examples): ⟨⟩ /da/.
When a fat?ah is placed before a plain letter ⟨?⟩ (alif) (i.e. one having no hamza or vowel of its own), it represents a long /a:/ (as in the English word "father"). For example: ⟨⟩ /da:/. The fat?ah is not usually written in such cases. When a fathah placed before the letter ??? (y?'), it creates an /aj/ (as in "lie"); and when placed before the letter ??? (w?w), it creates an /aw/ (as in "cow")
A similar diagonal line below a letter is called a kasrah ⟨?⟩ and designates a short /i/ (as in "Tim") and its allophones [i, ?, e, e?, ?]. For example: ⟨⟩ /di/.
When a kasrah is placed before a plain letter ⟨?⟩ (y?'), it represents a long /i:/ (as in the English word "steed"). For example: ⟨⟩ /di:/. The kasrah is usually not written in such cases, but if y?' is pronounced as a diphthong /aj/, fat?ah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. The word kasrah means 'breaking'.
The ?ammah ⟨⟩ is a small curl-like diacritic placed above a letter to represent a short /u/ (as in "put") and its allophones [u, ?, o, o?, ?]. For example: ⟨⟩ /du/.
When a ?ammah is placed before a plain letter ⟨?⟩ (w?w), it represents a long /u:/ (like the 'oo' sound in the English word "swoop"). For example: ⟨⟩ /du:/. The ?ammah is usually not written in such cases, but if w?w is pronounced as a diphthong /aw/, fat?ah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation.
The superscript (or dagger) alif ⟨ ⟩ (alif khanjar?yah), is written as short vertical stroke on top of a consonant. It indicates a long /a:/ sound for which alif is normally not written. For example: ⟨⟩ (h?dh?) or ⟨⟩ (ra?m?n).
The dagger alif occurs in only a few words, but they include some common ones; it is seldom written, however, even in fully vocalised texts. Most keyboards do not have dagger alif. The word Allah ⟨?⟩ (All?h) is usually produced automatically by entering alif l?m l?m h. The word consists of alif + ligature of doubled l?m with a shaddah and a dagger alif above l?m.
In theory, the same sequence /?a:/ could also be represented by two alifs, as in *⟨⟩, where a hamza above the first alif represents the /?/ while the second alif represents the /a:/. However, consecutive alifs are never used in the Arabic orthography. Instead, this sequence must always be written as a single alif with a maddah above it, the combination known as an alif maddah. For example: ⟨⟩ /qur'?a:n/.
The wa?lah ⟨?⟩, alif wa?lah ⟨ ?⟩ or hamzat wa?l ⟨? ⟩ looks like a small letter d on top of an alif ⟨?⟩ (also indicated by an alif ⟨?⟩ without a hamzah). It means that the alif is not pronounced when its word doesn't begin a sentence. For example: ⟨?⟩ (bismi), but ⟨⟩ (imsh? not msh?). This is because no Arab word can start with a vowel-less consonant (unlike the English school, or skateboard). But when it happens, an alif is added to obtain a vowel or a vowelled consonant at the beginning of one's speech. In English that would result in ischool, or iskateboard.
It occurs only in the beginning of words, but it can occur after prepositions and the definite article. It is commonly found in imperative verbs, the perfective aspect of verb stems VII to X and their verbal nouns (ma?dar). The alif of the definite article is considered a wa?lah.
It occurs in phrases and sentences (connected speech, not isolated/dictionary forms):
The suk?n ⟨⟩ is a circle-shaped diacritic placed above a letter. It indicates that the consonant to which it is attached is not followed by a vowel.
It is a necessary symbol for writing consonant-vowel-consonant syllables, which are very common in Arabic. For example: ⟨?⟩ (dad).
The suk?n may also be used to help represent a diphthong. A fat?ah followed by the letter ⟨?⟩ (y?') with a suk?n over it (?) indicates the diphthong ay (IPA /aj/). A fat?ah, followed by the letter ⟨?⟩ (w?w) with a suk?n, (?) indicates /aw/.
The suk?n may have also an alternative form of the small high dotless head of kh ( ۡ ), particularly in some Qurans. Other shapes may exist as well (for example, like a small comma above ?'? or like a circumflex ?^? in nasta?l?q).
The three vowel diacritics may be doubled at the end of a word to indicate that the vowel is followed by the consonant n. They may or may not be considered ?arak?t and are known as tanw?n ⟨⟩, or nunation. The signs indicate, from right to left, -un, -in, -an.
These endings are used as non-pausal grammatical indefinite case endings in Literary Arabic or classical Arabic (triptotes only). In a vocalised text, they may be written even if they are not pronounced (see pausa). See i'r?b for more details. In many spoken Arabic dialects, the endings are absent. Many Arabic textbooks introduce standard Arabic without these endings. The grammatical endings may not be written in some vocalized Arabic texts, as knowledge of i'r?b varies from country to country, and there is a trend towards simplifying Arabic grammar.
The sign ⟨⟩ is most commonly written in combination with ⟨⟩ (alif), ⟨⟩ (t?' marbah), ⟨⟩ (alif hamzah) or stand-alone ⟨⟩ (hamzah). Alif should always be written (except for words ending in t?' marbah, hamzah or diptotes) even if an is not. Grammatical cases and tanw?n endings in indefinite triptote forms:
The shadda or shaddah ⟨⟩ (shaddah), or tashdid ⟨⟩ (tashd?d), is a diacritic shaped like a small written Latin "w".
It is used to indicate gemination (consonant doubling or extra length), which is phonemic in Arabic. It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled. It is the only ?arakah that is sometimes used in ordinary spelling to avoid ambiguity. For example: ⟨⟩ /dd/; madrasah ⟨⟩ ('school') vs. mudarrisah ⟨?⟩ ('teacher', female).
The i'j?m ⟨⟩ (sometimes also called nuqa?) are the diacritic points that distinguish various consonants that have the same form (rasm), such as ⟨⟩ /b/, ⟨⟩ /t/, ⟨⟩ /?/, ⟨⟩ /n/, and ⟨⟩ /j/. Typically i'j?m are not considered diacritics but part of the letter.
Early manuscripts of the Qur'?n did not use diacritics either for vowels or to distinguish the different values of the rasm. Vowel pointing was introduced first, as a red dot placed above, below, or beside the rasm, and later consonant pointing was introduced, as thin, short black single or multiple dashes placed above or below the rasm (image). These i'j?m became black dots about the same time as the ?arak?t became small black letters or strokes.
Typically, Egyptians do not use dots under final y?' ⟨?⟩, which looks exactly like alif maqrah ⟨?⟩ in handwriting and in print. This practice is also used in copies of the muaf (Qurn) scribed by 'Uthman h?. The same unification of y? and alif maqr? has happened in Persian, resulting in what the Unicode Standard calls "arabic letter farsi yeh", that looks exactly the same as y? in initial and medial forms, but exactly the same as alif maqrah in final and isolated forms ⟨ ⟩.
At the time when the i'j?m was optional, letters deliberately lacking the points of i'j?m: ⟨?⟩ /?/, ⟨?⟩ /d/, ⟨?⟩ /r/, ⟨?⟩ /s/, ⟨?⟩ /s?/, ⟨?⟩ /t?/, ⟨?⟩ /?/, ⟨?⟩ /l/, ⟨?⟩ /h/ -- could be marked with a small v-shaped sign above or below the letter, or a semicircle, or a miniature of the letter itself (e.g. a small ? to indicate that the letter in question is ? and not ?), or one or several subscript dots, or a superscript hamza, or a superscript stroke. These signs, collectively known as 'al?m?tu-l-ihm?l, are still occasionally used in modern Arabic calligraphy, either for their original purpose (i.e. marking letters without i'j?m), or often as purely decorative space-fillers. The small ? above the k?f in its final and isolated forms ⟨? ⟩ was originally 'al?matu-l-ihm?l, but became a permanent part of the letter. Previously this sign could also appear above the medial form of k?f, instead of the stroke on its ascender.
Although often a diacritic is not considered a letter of the alphabet, the hamza ? (hamzah, glottal stop), often stands as a separate letter in writing, is written in unpointed texts and is not considered a tashk?l. It may appear as a letter by itself or as a diacritic over or under an alif, w?w, or y?.
Which letter is to be used to support the hamzah depends on the quality of the adjacent vowels;
Consider the following words: ⟨⟩ /?ax/ ("brother"), ⟨⟩ /?isma:?i:l/ ("Ismael"), ⟨?⟩ /?umm/ ("mother"). All three of above words "begin" with a vowel opening the syllable, and in each case, alif is used to designate the initial glottal stop (the actual beginning). But if we consider middle syllables "beginning" with a vowel: ⟨?⟩ /naa/ ("origin"), ⟨?⟩ /?af?ida/ ("hearts" -- notice the /?i/ syllable; singular ⟨⟩ /fu?a:d/), ⟨⟩ /ru?u:s/ ("heads", singular ⟨⟩ /ra?s/), the situation is different, as noted above. See the comprehensive article on hamzah for more details.
According to tradition, the first to commission a system of harakat was Ali who appointed Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali for the task. Abu al-Aswad devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. This system of dots predates the i'j?m, dots used to distinguish between different consonants.
Abu al-Aswad's system of Harakat was different from the system we know today. The system used red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel.
A dot above a letter indicated the vowel a, a dot below indicated the vowel i, a dot on the side of a letter stood for the vowel u, and two dots stood for the tanw?n.
However, the early manuscripts of the Qur'an did not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters where they were necessary for a correct reading.
This is the precursor to the system we know today. al-Far?h?d? found that the task of writing using two different colours was tedious and impractical. Another complication was that the i'j?m had been introduced by then, which, while they were short strokes rather than the round dots seen today, meant that without a color distinction the two could become confused.
Accordingly, he replaced the ?arak?t with small superscript letters: small alif, y?', and w?w for the short vowels corresponding to the long vowels written with those letters, a small s(h)?n for shaddah (geminate), a small kh?' for khaf?f (short consonant; no longer used). His system is essentially the one we know today.