Shin (letter)

Shin (also spelled Šin (šīn) or Sheen) is the twenty-first letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Shin , Hebrew Shin ש, Aramaic Shin , Syriac Shin ܫ, and Arabic Shin ش (in abjadi order, 13th in modern order). Its sound value is a voiceless sibilant, [ʃ] or [s].

Phonemic representationʃ (s)
Position in alphabet21
Numerical value300
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Sigma (Σ) (which in turn gave Latin S and Cyrillic С), and the letter Sha in the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts (, Ш).

The South Arabian and Ethiopian letter Śawt is also cognate.


Egyptian hieroglyph
Proto-Sinaitic Phoenician

The Proto-Sinaitic glyph, according to William Albright, was based on a "tooth" and with the phonemic value š "corresponds etymologically (in part, at least) to original Semitic (th), which was pronounced s in South Canaanite".[1]

The Phoenician šin letter expressed the continuants of two Proto-Semitic phonemes, and may have been based on a pictogram of a tooth (in modern Hebrew shen). The Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972, records that it originally represented a composite bow.

The history of the letters expressing sibilants in the various Semitic alphabets is somewhat complicated, due to different mergers between Proto-Semitic phonemes. As usually reconstructed, there are five Proto-Semitic phonemes that evolved into various voiceless sibilants in daughter languages, as follows:

Proto-Semitic Akkadian Arabic Paleo Hebrew Hebrew Aramaic Ge'ez
š [ʃ] سs š שׁš שׁš s
s [s] s سs s סs סs s
[sʼ] ص צ צ
ś [ɬ] شš š שׂs שׂ or סs ś
ṣ́ [ɬʼ] ض צ עʿ ṣ́

Arabic šīn/sīn

In the Arabic alphabet, šīn is at the original (21st) position in Abjadi order. A letter variant س sīn takes the place of Samekh at 15th position.

Šīn represents /ʃ/, and is the 13th letter of the modern alphabet order and is written thus:

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ش ـش ـشـ شـ

The Arabic letter šīn was an acronym for "something" (شيء šayʾ(un) [ʃajʔ(un)]) meaning the unknown in algebraic equations. In the transcription into Spanish, the Greek letter chi (χ) was used which was later transcribed into Latin x. According to some sources, this is the origin of x used for the unknown in the equations.[2][3] However, according to other sources, there is no historical evidence for this.[4][5] In Modern Arabic mathematical notation, س sīn, i.e. šīn without its dots, often corresponds to Latin x.

In Moroccan Arabic, the letter ڜ, šīn with an additional three dots below, is used to transliterate the /t͡ʃ/ sound.

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ڜ ـڜ ـڜـ ڜـ

Aramaic Shin/Sin

In Aramaic, where the use of shin is well-determined, the orthography of sin was never fully resolved.

To express an etymological /ś/, a number of dialects chose either sin or samek exclusively, where other dialects switch freely between them (often 'leaning' more often towards one or the other). For example:[6]



Old Aramaic Imperial Aramaic Middle Aramaic Palestinian Aramaic Babylonian Aramaic
עשר Syrian Inscriptions Idumaean Ostraca, Egyptian, Egyptian-Persian, Ezra Qumran Galilean Gaonic, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic
עסר Tell Halaf (none recorded) Palmyrene, Syriac Zoar, Christian Palestinian Aramaic Mandaic
both (none recorded) (none recorded) (none recorded) Targum Jehonathan, Original Manuscript Archival Texts, Palestinian Targum (Genizah), Samaritan Late Jewish Literary Aramaic

Regardless of how it is written, /ś/ in spoken Aramaic seems to have universally resolved to /s/.

Hebrew Shin / Sin

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
ש ש ש

Hebrew spelling: שִׁין

The Hebrew /s/ version according to the reconstruction shown above is descended from Proto-Semitic *ś, a phoneme thought to correspond to a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative /ɬ/, similar to Welsh Ll in "Llandudno".

See also Hebrew phonology, Śawt.

Sin and Shin Dot

Sin and Shin dot

שׁ שׂ
IPA s, ʃ
Transliteration s, sh
English example sought, shot
Sin Dot
The word Israel in Hebrew, Yisrael. The upper left hand dot on the Sin is a Sin dot.
Shin Dot
The Hebrew word yesh, there is. The upper right hand dot on the Shin is a Shin dot.
Other niqqud
Shva · Hiriq · Zeire · Segol · Patach · Kamatz · Holam · Dagesh · Mappiq · Shuruk · Kubutz · Rafe · Sin/Shin Dot

The Hebrew letter represents two different phonemes: a sibilant /s/, like English sour, and a /ʃ/, like English shoe. The two are distinguished by a dot above the left-hand side of the letter for /s/ and above the right-hand side for /ʃ/. In the biblical name Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר) only, the second sin/shin letter is always written without any dot, even in fully vocalized texts. This is because the second sin/shin is always silent.

Name Symbol IPA Transliteration Example
Sin dot (left) שׂ /s/ s sour
Shin dot (right) שׁ /ʃ/ sh shop

Unicode encoding

Glyph Unicode Name
ׂ U+05C2 SIN DOT


In gematria, Shin represents the number 300.

Shin, as a prefix, bears the same meaning as the relative pronouns "that", "which" and "who" in English. In colloquial Hebrew, Kaph and Shin together have the meaning of "when". This is a contraction of כּאשר, ka'asher (as, when).

Shin is also one of the seven letters which receive special crowns (called tagin) when written in a Sefer Torah. See Gimmel, Ayin, Teth, Nun, Zayin, and Tzadi.

According to Judges 12:6, the tribe of Ephraim could not differentiate between Shin and Samekh; when the Gileadites were at war with the Ephraimites, they would ask suspected Ephraimites to say the word shibolet; an Ephraimite would say sibolet and thus be exposed. From this episode we get the English word shibboleth.

In Judaism

Shin also stands for the word Shaddai, a name for God. Because of this, a kohen (priest) forms the letter Shin with his hands as he recites the Priestly Blessing. In the mid 1960s, actor Leonard Nimoy used a single-handed version of this gesture to create the Vulcan hand salute for his character, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek.[7][8]

The letter Shin is often inscribed on the case containing a mezuzah, a scroll of parchment with Biblical text written on it. The text contained in the mezuzah is the Shema Yisrael prayer, which calls the Israelites to love their God with all their heart, soul and strength. The mezuzah is situated upon all the doorframes in a home or establishment. Sometimes the whole word Shaddai will be written.

The Shema Yisrael prayer also commands the Israelites to write God's commandments on their hearts (Deut. 6:6); the shape of the letter Shin mimics the structure of the human heart: the lower, larger left ventricle (which supplies the full body) and the smaller right ventricle (which supplies the lungs) are positioned like the lines of the letter Shin.

A religious significance has been applied to the fact that there are three valleys that comprise the city of Jerusalem's geography: the Valley of Ben Hinnom, Tyropoeon Valley, and Kidron Valley, and that these valleys converge to also form the shape of the letter shin, and that the Temple in Jerusalem is located where the dagesh (horizontal line) is. This is seen as a fulfillment of passages such as Deuteronomy 16:2 that instructs Jews to celebrate the Pasach at "the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name" (NIV).

In the Sefer Yetzirah the letter Shin is King over Fire, Formed Heaven in the Universe, Hot in the Year, and the Head in the Soul.

The 13th-century Kabbalistic text Sefer HaTemunah, holds that a single letter of unknown pronunciation, held by some to be the four-pronged shin on one side of the teffilin box, is missing from the current alphabet. The world's flaws, the book teaches, are related to the absence of this letter, the eventual revelation of which will repair the universe.

In Russian

The corresponding letter for the /ʃ/ sound in Russian is nearly identical in shape to the Hebrew shin. Given that the Cyrillic script includes borrowed letters from a variety of different alphabets such as Greek and Latin, it is often suggested that the letter sha is directly borrowed from the Hebrew letter shin (other hypothesized sources include Coptic and Samaritan).

Sayings with Shin

The Shin-Bet was an old acronym for the Israeli Department of Internal General Security.

A Shin-Shin Clash is Israeli military parlance for a battle between two tank divisions ("armour" in Hebrew is שִׁרְיוֹן - shiryon).

Sh'at haShin (the Shin hour) is the last possible moment for any action, usually military. Corresponds to the English expression the eleventh hour.

Character encodings

UTF-8215 169D7 A9216 179D8 B3216 180D8 B4220 171DC AB239 172 170EF AC AA239 172 171EF AC AB239 172 172EF AC AC239 172 173EF AC AD
Numeric character referenceששسسششܫܫשׁשׁשׂשׂשּׁשּׁשּׂשּׂ
UTF-8224 160 148E0 A0 94240 144 142 152F0 90 8E 98240 144 161 148F0 90 A1 94240 144 164 148F0 90 A4 94
UTF-162068081455296 57240D800 DF9855298 56404D802 DC5455298 56596D802 DD14
Numeric character referenceࠔࠔ𐎘𐎘𐡔𐡔𐤔𐤔


  1. Albright, W. F. (1948). "The Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from Sinai and their Decipherment". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 110: 6–22 [p. 15]. doi:10.2307/3218767.
  2. Terry Moore: Why is 'x' the unknown?
  3. Online Etymological Dictionary
  4. Cajori, Florian. A History of Mathematical Notation. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 382–383. Retrieved 11 October 2012. Nor is there historical evidence to support the statement found in Noah Webster's Dictionary, under the letter x, to the effect that 'x was used as an abbreviation of Ar. shei (a thing), something, which, in the Middle Ages, was used to designate the unknown, and was then prevailingly transcribed as xei.'
  5. Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). There is no evidence in support of the hypothesis that x is derived ultimately from the mediaeval transliteration xei of shei "thing", used by the Arabs to denote the unknown quantity, or from the compendium for L. res "thing" or radix "root" (resembling a loosely-written x), used by mediaeval mathematicians.
  6. The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon
  7. Star Trek: The Original Series, episode #30 "Amok Time" (production #34), and I Am Not Spock, Leonard Nimoy, 1977.
  8. Nimoy, Leonard (Narrator) (February 6, 2014). Live Long and Prosper: The Jewish Story Behind Spock, Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek Character. Yiddish Book Center. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
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