I was taught how to read in an ashekenazi yeshivah where no difference was made between the aleph and ayin. I keep trying to make my ayin gutteral but it never sounds exactly how the sephardim pronounce it. Is there a specific technique I can use to get the right sound. What can I do to practice pronouncing this letter?

The intention behind this question is so that I would be able to read the daily prayers accurately according to my tradition.

  • 2
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    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 22, 2016 at 22:08
  • I recommend Ladefoged.
    – msh210
    Feb 22, 2016 at 23:31
  • @Argon That’s not Babylonian
    – ezra
    May 16 at 19:44

3 Answers 3


There is an excellent video discussing the proper pronunciation of the letter Ayin with several clear examples by Rabbi David bar Chaim from Machon Shilo.

The relevant section begins at point 3:06-07 in the video. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/iAx1rwU9x4M?si=QafneOw4FBbfNinB

  • This is a very interesting video series on the alphabet, but it would help a lot more if this rabbi gave examples from davening, perhaps the three sections of the Shema, so one could hear this pronunciation in the context of words and sentences. It raises the question in my mind if this is a theoretical educational exercise for him, or if it is the way he prays daily.
    – Mike
    May 16 at 12:25
  • @Mike It is the way he davens every day. If you watch his other posted videos, he consistently uses this pronunciation. My suggestion for you would be to write to him via the website asking that he please do a video of your request. It's a good suggestion and one that he likely would consider. May 16 at 13:57

א is a glottal stop, like the break in the phrase "uh-oh". It's a closure or clicking of the glottis, which is the lowest opening in the throat used for speech, right above the voice box.

The correct pronunciation of ע is a voiced pharyngeal fricative. The simplest way to describe the sound to an English speaker, in my opinion, is by squeezing the throat and using your voice at the same time. A good way to practice this is by bunching up your tongue as far back as you can until you feel your throat’s opening get narrower. Try to replicate that feeling in your throat, but keep the tip of your tongue behind your teeth, and breathe out while using your voice.

Sources: ספר היצירה, דקדוקי הטעמים, short Hidāyat al-Qāriʾ II.§1.¶2 (plus personal research).

Before the later Neviim, ע and ח each had two pronunciations, like ש still does. And just as with ש, their secondary sound was more forward.
For ע, the main sound was as just I described, and the one still in use today. The secondary one was more forward, like Modern-Hebrew Resh. This ancient aspect of Hebrew is reflected in Ancient Greek and Latin transcriptions.

(It should be noted that some Mizrahi Jews pronounce ע as a pharyngealized glottal stop, which is like an א followed by ע. This is a modern pronunciation influenced by pre-modern colloquial Arabic and is different from the original pronunciation of ע. One proof is the above paragraph, which would not be possible if ע were a glottal stop.)

  • 1
    Where in ספר היצירה, דקדוקי הטעמים does it say this?
    – Double AA
    Apr 10 at 12:51
  • The simplest way to describe the sound to an English speaker, in my opinion, is by squeezing the throat and using your voice at the same time. - like Mr. Bean?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 10 at 18:40
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    @QwertyCTRL. Hehe, how about Mr Bombastic as an example?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 27 at 20:54
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    @Rabbi Kaii | Lol. Now that you mention it, he does sound somewhat like he's doing that... Apr 28 at 19:14
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    @QwertyCTRL. Giving the name of a sefer doesn't count as a source. Please give a precise reference like a page, and best is to quote it here so the reader can see it. Also, DoubleAA already asked what you thought you saw in those references and you didn't answer. I imagine he saw (for instance) that Sefer Yetzirah called it a "gutteral" but didn't say which one. We need help here understanding what you are saying.
    – MichoelR
    May 17 at 12:53

The correct pronunciation is a pharyngealized glottal stop. The best way to learn to pronounce this letter is to properly learn to pronounce Teth (ט) first. This is a pharyngealized voiceless alveolar stop. To make this sound, make your tongue into a cup. It should be pressing on your furthest back top molars. You should also feel an uncomfortable sensation in your throat, which might cause you to gag a little until you get used to it. Keeping your tongue in this shape, say 'Ta'. It'll come out sounding odd, and half way between a T and D. Once you can do that easily, you're ready to try an Ayin. The glottal stop is the sound you probably don't hear that occurs at the beginning of all the words that start with a vowel sound. It's easiest to hear it as the '-' in 'uh-oh'. Make your tongue into the bowl shape and say 'oh'. It will sound weird again in the same way as the Teth. That's an Ayin. Practice 'uh'-'Oh' until you sound like a Yemenite.

  • 1
    I'm pretty sure glottal stop is silence caused by the glottis and so I'm not sure its proper to call ayin a glottal stop, when aleph is a glottal stop
    – Aaron
    Feb 23, 2016 at 0:34
  • @Aaron Pharyngealization is a secondary articulation that makes it a different letter. All the emphatic letters can be thought of as pharyngealized other letters. Teth is a pharyngealized taw, Sadhi is a pharyngealized Samekh, Qaf is a pharyngealized Kaph, Heth can be thought of as a pharyngealized Heh. Ayin is a pharyngealized Aleph. The constriction of the throat prevents total closure of the glottis, and the secondary articulation colors the following vowel, which is enough to make it it's own letter. Feb 23, 2016 at 1:42
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    Still not comfortable with the term glottal stop as again it refers to the idea that you stop all airflow and it creates a break in sound. i understand what you are referring to, and how maybe you mean you approach a glottal stop. But whatever. It's your description.
    – Aaron
    Feb 23, 2016 at 2:22
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    No, there are several possible IPAs for it as there are a few ways to do Ayin. There is ʕ, ʢ, and ʔˤ. You can pronounce the Ayin in any of those ways. There are those who do a type of glottal stop, i myself do it for emphasis on occasion. But ayin can be made without a full stoppage, or in other words, a voiced pharyngeal approximant or fricative.
    – Aaron
    Feb 23, 2016 at 5:25
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    This could go on and on forever. i've heard noted Sephardi Chazzanim such as Moshe Chabusha pronounce Ayin as a fricative, rather than a stop. And i don't know what it is you are speaking of that in Antiquity the Ayin and the Aleph sound similar. i know that there were those who did not distinguish between Aleph and Ayin, but it could be that they didn't sound out either. We don't know in what way they were similar to those people then. Either way, i think it's a disservice to say "an ayin is only this" when from my experience people do Ayins very differently, from a fricative to a stop
    – Aaron
    Feb 23, 2016 at 17:56

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