In alphabetic languages (broadly speaking - anything other than a logographic script) which are written right-to-left, are the characters within a word written in the same direction as the words, or are they aligned differently?

So if we pretended that English was written right-to-left, how would the sentence "My name is James, I live in the UK" be written?

KU eht ni evil I ,semaJ si eman yM

UK the in live I ,James is name My

  • 5
    This question indicates no prior research effort. You may start with Wikipedia to get basic information on right-to-left writing. Jul 23, 2014 at 12:37
  • 5
    OK. Now that he's been caned, we can tell him that (1) is the answer; i.e, one doesn't read sentences right-to-left but words left-to-right. The only exception I've ever seen is Hebrew songs in musical transcription. The music goes left-to-right, but the syllables under the note staves are in Hebrew, written right-to-left, with hyphens in the space between syllables to indicate what the words are. This works, since Hebrew uses an abjad instead of an alphabet, so syllables are at most two letters long.
    – jlawler
    Jul 23, 2014 at 14:41
  • @jlawler Good unusual example of the Hebrew music transcription. It struck me as odd and hard to read the first time I saw it. In America and Europe, it is much more common to instead use a Latin alphabet transliteration in Hebrew music so it will at least flow left-to-right like the music does. In the OP's example, it would be the equivalent of "yM eman si semaJ". I wonder if that Hebrew music transcription style is the standard format in Israel?
    – Mike
    Jul 24, 2014 at 2:40
  • 1
    There are arguments that the order of digits in numbers can be in the opposite direction to the direction of writing, but we don't sense it intuitively when we are already familiar with our writing and numbers. Also most Indic scripts are written left to right but vowels may precede in writing a consonant which in sound they follow (and more complex combinations of vowel symbols too!) But I'm not aware of any right-to-left scripts with this kind of out of order letters. Jul 25, 2014 at 2:57

1 Answer 1


Reading RTL is way much different from writing an LTR language RTL, which basically means that the text render-er (or the person) is not doing its (their) job properly to display the text correctly. So, in the countries where they read RTL, they read the RTL language RTL, not English in RTL, because English is an LTR language.

Some of RTL languages are Persian, Urdu, Dari, Hebrew, Arabic, etc. and if you really want to know which one they look like more, the answer is 1. However in some of these languages, like Persian, math and numbers are done LTR, just like English. So arithmetic are done LTR, and 67 is just 67, not "76". I won't judge about the other languages, since I do know that some of these rules change in Arabic for instance.

Also, I would recommend reading some articles or even try learning these languages to even a small extent, if you really want to understand how these languages work, since the whole answer cannot fit in one single post here. (:

  • 1
    I type in Arabic all the time. It works very well on Word for Windows, but does not work on Word for Mac. If you use Mac you need to buy specialist Arabic software.
    – fdb
    Jul 23, 2014 at 17:07
  • 1
    MS Office for Windows is quite good with RTL nowadays. A few days ago I wanted to reproduce an RTL issue, and couldn't do it with Word on Windows, just because it did the job so good! MS Word for Mac is not so good, but there are free tricks to get around it. I'm not a LaTex user, but have heard it's good. (:
    – Neeku
    Jul 24, 2014 at 9:27
  • 2
    There is an opposing argument that the numbers in English are actually right-to-left whereas the words are left-to-right. Jul 25, 2014 at 2:59
  • 4
    If you think the state of tech for right-to-left languages is bad, try doing anything with a top-to-bottom script some time, such as traditional Mongolian script. Jul 25, 2014 at 3:00
  • 2
    @hippietrail OMG! That's a really good point. I had never thought about those languages. I can see the point with English numbers, which can still be confusing.
    – Neeku
    Jul 25, 2014 at 8:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.