In Hebrew orthography, niqqud (Hebrew: נִקּוּד ; "dotting, pointing") is the system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Several systems for representing Hebrew vowels were developed in the Early Middle Ages. The most widespread system, and the only one still used to a significant degree today, was created by the Masoretes of Tiberias in the second half of the first millennium in the Land of Israel.
Niqqud marks are small compared to consonants, so they can be added without retranscribing texts whose writers did not anticipate them.
Text written with niqqud is called ktiv menuqad.
In Biblical Hebrew, each vowel had three forms: short, long and interrupted (khataf). However, there is no audible distinction between the three in modern Israeli Hebrew.
ְ Shva (Hebrew: שְׁוָא) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by two vertical dots "ְ" underneath a letter. In Modern Hebrew, it indicates either the phoneme /e/ or the complete absence of a vowel (Ø)
ַ Patah/Pata7 (Hebrew: פַּתַח pataḥ) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by a horizontal line "ַ" underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme /a/ which is the same as the "a" sound in far and is transliterated as a "a".
ָ Qamats (Hebrew: קָמַץ) is a Hebrew niqqud (vowel) sign represented by two perpendicular lines (looking like an uppercase T) "ָ" underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew (Sephardi/Israeli), it usually indicates the phoneme /a/ which is the same as the "a" sound in far and is transliterated as an "a" and thus its sound is identical to the sound of Patah in modern Hebrew. In some cases it indicates the phoneme /o/, equal to the sound of holam.
ֲ Hataf Patah/7ataf pata7 (Hebrew: חֲטַף פַּתַח "Reduced Patah"). In Modern Hebrew it makes the same sound as a Qamats.
ֻ,וּ Qubuts (Hebrew: קֻבּוּץ) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by three diagonal dots "ֻ" underneath a letter. In some grammar books it is called Qibuts (קִבּוּץ), but its most common modern name is Qubuts. Shuruq (Hebrew: שׁוּרוּק) is another Hebrew niqqud vowel sign and it is represented by a dot in the middle and on the left side of a Vav (Waw) "וּ". In Modern Hebrew, both signs indicate the phoneme /u/, a close back rounded vowel. Its closest equivalent in English is the "oo" sound in moon, but the Hebrew pronunciation is shorter. It is transliterated as a "u".
ֳ Hataf Qamats (Hebrew: חֲטַף קָמָץ) is a "reduced Qamats". Like Qamats Qatan, it is pronounced [o], but the rationale for its usage is different: it replaces the shva on letters which require a shva according to the grammar, but where the traditional pronunciation is [o]. This mostly happens with gutturals, for example in אֳרָנִים (pines, [oranim], the plural form of אֹרֶן, [ˈoren]), but occasionally also on other letters, for example שֳׁרָשִׁים (roots, [ʃoraˈʃim], the plural of שֹׁרֶשׁ [ˈʃoreʃ]) and צִפֳּרִים (birds, [tsiporim], the plural of [tsipor]).
ִ Hiriq/7iriq (Hebrew: חִירִיק Hiriq) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by a dot "ִ" underneath letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme /i/ which is the same as the "ee" sound in deep and is transliterated as a "i".
In Israeli writing a Hiriq is often promoted to Hiriq Male (Hebrew: חִירִיק מָלֵא) for the sake of disambiguation. A Hiriq Male is a Yud preceded by a letter with a hiriq "י" and in writing without niqqud, the hiriq is omitted leaving only the Yud "י". The usage of a consonant (in this case Yud) to indicate a vowel comes from mater lectionis.
ֵ tseyre (Hebrew: צֵירֵי, Sseyrey) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by two dots "ֵ" underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme /e/ which is the same as the "e" sound in the word "they" and is transliterated as an "e".
ֶ Segol (Hebrew: סֶגּוֹל) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented what resembles an upsidedown therefore sign (a because sign) "ֶ" underneath a letter. In modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme /e/ as in the English word "met".
Holam/7olam (Hebrew: חוֹלָם) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by a dot above the upper left corner of the consonant letter. For example, here the holam appears after the letter mem (מ): מֹ. In Modern Hebrew, it indicates the close-mid back rounded vowel /o/ and is transliterated as an "o".
וֹ Holam Male. In modern Hebrew it makes the same sound as Holam.
Diphthongs are formed when Yud is preceded by a vowel.
A few examples:
בֵּי - bey
וֹי - oy
דַי - day ("a" as in "father" and not as in the English word "day")
שַׁי - shay
Hebrew has two frequent kinds of lexical stress, on the last syllable (milera3; מלרע) and on the penultimate syllable (the one preceding the last, mil3el; מלעיל), of which the first is more frequent.
Specific rules correlate the location or absence of stress in a syllable with the written representation of vowel length and whether or not the syllable ends with a vowel or a consonant. Since spoken Israeli Hebrew does not distinguish between long and short vowels, these rules are not evident in speech. They usually cannot be inferred from written text either, since usually vowel diacritics are omitted.