In Arabic we have three types of "h" sounds, as in the following list:

  • ح
  • خ
  • ه

I would like to know, which of these sounds is commonly transcribed as "kh" in English, and how are the other two "h" sounds transcribed, so as to avoid confusion.


  • 1
    fwiw, these are not aspirated.the difference between aspirated and non-aspirated is the difference between p in "peter" and p in "bump it". – mobileink Oct 15 '16 at 23:18
  • Thank you. I've updated my post to reflect your observation. – Jack Maddington Oct 16 '16 at 2:57

Well, we transcribe in IPA and we spell or transliterate in English, more or less. I assume you're asking about conventional letters and not phonetic symbols. ح i.e. [ħ] suffers the most, being rendered as <ḥ> except if a publisher can't handle such exotica (not such a problem these days). خ i.e. [χ] is spelled <kh>, and ه i.e. [h] is spelled <h>.

  • So you are saying that the ح , which is rendered with IPA ħ, which is not part of the English alphabet, is not transcribed at all. That is terrible! No workarounds? – Jack Maddington Oct 15 '16 at 13:16
  • @JackMaddington It is transcribed. Note the dot in <ḥ> – michau Oct 15 '16 at 13:49
  • Thanks, but I am using the Android stack exchange current, and cannot see the h with the dot below. What character sry does this belong to. I cannot see it on my keyboard. I don't think English has such a letter. Where did you find it? Could you quote a reference? – Jack Maddington Oct 15 '16 at 16:06
  • But why not just make life easy and use something which can be written with the English alphabet charters such as "ch" for example for ح, to contrast it with "kh" for خ? – Jack Maddington Oct 15 '16 at 16:19
  • 1
    Might be version-specific. My phone is 5.1.1 and I see these characters. My tablet is coughing up blood so I can't tell about IceCream. – user6726 Oct 15 '16 at 16:55

there are many transliteration schemes. if you want to be scholarly, follow the Encyclopedia of Islam scheme. informally, I use H for your first example and h for the last. the middle one is not really an "h" sound, I usually go with "kh".

  • The kh sound seems to mimic the ch sound in German and Czech, which is why I called it an 'h sound'. BUT then how would you distinguish a kh to make it different from, say, كح or كه?. – Jack Maddington Oct 16 '16 at 3:03
  • these are completely different sounds. it's kinda hard to demonstrate in writing, but believe me, there's a huge difference. find yourself a native speaker. – mobileink Oct 18 '16 at 1:21

In English writing, often خ becomes "kh" and the others are combined into "h". For example, محمد → Muhammad (with "h" meaning ح), الله → Allah (with "h" meaning ه).

In lossless Arabic transcription, ح is usually written "ħ" (h with bar) or "ḥ" (h with under-dot) to separate it from ه. But this is rare except in textbooks and scholarly works; I've never seen a news article refer to *Muħammad or *Muḥammad.

Lossless transcription also needs to distinguish "kh" خ from "kh" كه . One approach is to spell كه as "k'h" (ALA-LC does this); another is to write خ as "x" (per ISO 233-2) or "ḫ" (h with under-breve). I personally prefer the second of these options. A handwritten apostrophe is too close to the symbols for ayn and hamza (ʿ and ʾ), while ḫ and ḥ tend to look very similar in print; writing the three as "h", "x", and "ħ" makes them much easier to tell apart.

(In lossy transcription, of course, the distinction between the "kh"s can be ignored entirely.)

  • If kh is used to translate خ, then how would you transliterate كح or كه in a lossless manner? Thanks. – Jack Maddington Oct 16 '16 at 3:06
  • 1
    Either with an apostrophe separating them (which needs to look distinct from both ayn and hamza), or by using "x" or "ḫ" for خ. I'll add that to the answer. – Draconis Oct 16 '16 at 4:20
  • I have also seen transcriptions with the ta marbuta ة transliterated, and perhaps even transcribed, as h. Is this incorrect? Can you please comment on the ta Marbury as well? Thanks. – Jack Maddington Oct 16 '16 at 9:17
  • Anyways, good point. Perhaps one should transcribe "x" instead of "kh" for ك. Seems like English is in done bad need of Arabic transcription reforms? With the current form, when one sees a city name, how on Earth can one figure out how to pronounce it correctly. ????????? (Even with the Arabic spelling, one still needs to know what Targa, Keats, and summa to pronounce. How can you know? Maybe Google Translatecan helpwith the pronunciation (and II wish Google Maps had an option to see city names in their original languages). – Jack Maddington Oct 16 '16 at 9:20
  • 1
    regarding "ta marbuta": make it a separate question and I'll give all the gory details. – mobileink Oct 18 '16 at 1:27

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