Kaf (also spelled kaph) is the eleventh letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Kāp 𐤊 , Hebrew Kāf כ, Aramaic Kāp 𐡊 , Syriac Kāp̄ ܟܟ, and Arabic Kāf ک/ك (in Abjadi order).

Phonemic representationk, x
Position in alphabet11
Numerical value20
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek kappa (Κ), Latin K, and Cyrillic К.

Origin of kaph

Kaph is thought to be derived from a pictogram of a hand (in both modern Arabic and modern Hebrew, kaph means palm/grip).

Hebrew kaf

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
כ כ כ

Hebrew spelling: כַּף

Hebrew pronunciation

The letter kaf is one of the six letters which can receive a dagesh kal. The other five are bet, gimel, daleth, pe, and tav (see Hebrew Alphabet for more about these letters).

There are two orthographic variants of this letter which alter the pronunciation:

Name Symbol IPA Transliteration[1] Example
Kaf כּ [k] k kangaroo
Khaf כ [χ] or [x] ch, kh, or k loch

Kaf with the dagesh

When the kaph has a "dot" in its center, known as a dagesh, it represents a voiceless velar plosive ([k]). There are various rules in Hebrew grammar that stipulate when and why a dagesh is used.

Kaf without the dagesh (khaf)

When this letter appears as כ without the dagesh ("dot") in its center it represents [χ], like the ch in German "Bach".

In modern Israeli Hebrew the letter heth is often pronounced as a [χ], but many communities have differentiated between these letters as in other Semitic languages.

Final form of kaf

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
ך ך ך

If the letter is at the end of a word the symbol is drawn differently. However, it does not change the pronunciation or transliteration in any way. The name for the letter is final kaf (kaf sofit). Four additional Hebrew letters take final forms: tsadi, mem, nun, and pei. Kaf/khaf is the only Hebrew letter that can take a vowel in its word-final form which is pronounced after the consonant, that vowel being the qamatz.

Name Alternate name Symbol
Final kaf Kaf sofit ךּ
Final khaf Khaf sofit ך

Significance of kaph in Hebrew

In gematria, kaph represents the number 20. Its final form represents 500, but this is rarely used, tav and qoph (400+100) being used instead.

As a prefix, kaph is a preposition:

  • It can mean "like" or "as", as in literary Arabic (see below).
  • In colloquial Hebrew, kaph and shin together have the meaning of "when". This is a contraction of כַּאֲשֶׁר, ka'asher (when).

Arabic kāf

The letter is named kāf, and it is written in several ways depending on its position in the word.

There are three variants of the letter:

  • the basic form is used for the Arabic language and many other languages:
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ك ـك ـكـ كـ
  • the cross-barred form, notably 'al-kāf al-mashkūlah/al-mashqūqah,[2] is used predominantly as an alternative form of the version above in all forms of Arabic and in the languages that use the Perso-Arabic script.
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ک ـک ـکـ کـ
  • the long s-shaped variant form, al-kāf al-mabsūṭah,[3] which is used in Arabic texts and for writing the Qur'an. It has a particular use in the Sindhi language of Pakistan, where it represents the unaspirated /k/, in contrast to the aspirated /kʰ/, which is written using the "normal" kāf ک (called keheh).
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ڪ ـڪ ـڪـ ڪـ

In varieties of Arabic kāf is almost universally pronounced as the voiceless velar plosive /k/, but in rural Palestinian and Iraqi, it is pronounced as a voiceless postalveolar affricate [t͡ʃ]. In Moroccan Arabic it's pronounced as k, g or ch.

Use in literary Arabic

In Literary Arabic, kāf is used as a prefix meaning "like", "as", or "as though". For example, كَطَائِر (/katˤaːʔir/), meaning "like a bird" or "as though a bird" (as in Hebrew, above). The prefix كَـ ka is one of the Arabic words for "like" or "as" (the other, مِثْل /miθl/, is unrelated). The /ka/ prefix sometimes has been added to other words to create fixed constructions. For instance, it is prefixed to ذٰلِك /ðaːlik/ "this, that" to form the fixed word كَذٰلِك /kaðaːlik/ "like so, likewise."

kāf is used as a possessive suffix for second-person singular nouns (feminine taking kāf-kasrah كِ, /ki/ and masculine kāf-fatḥah كَ /ka/); for instance, كِتَاب kitāb ("book") becomes كِتَابُكَ kitābuka ("your book", where the person spoken to is masculine) كِتَابُكِ kitābuki ("your book", where the person spoken to is feminine). At the ends of sentences and often in conversation the final vowel is suppressed, and thus كِتَابُك kitābuk ("your book"). In several varieties of vernacular Arabic, however, the kāf with no harakat is the standard second-person possessive, with the literary Arabic harakah shifted to the letter before the kāf: thus masculine "your book" in these varieties is كِتَابَك kitābak and feminine "your book" كِتَابِك kitābik.

Character encodings

UTF-8215 155D7 9B215 154D7 9A217 131D9 83218 169DA A9220 159DC 9F218 170DA AA
Numeric character referenceככךךككککܟܟڪڪ
UTF-8224 160 138E0 A0 8A240 144 142 139F0 90 8E 8B240 144 161 138F0 90 A1 8A240 144 164 138F0 90 A4 8A
UTF-162058080A55296 57227D800 DF8B55298 56394D802 DC4A55298 56586D802 DD0A
Numeric character referenceࠊࠊ𐎋𐎋𐡊𐡊𐤊𐤊

See also


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