I come from Christianity.SE, where I asked almost the same question. Isaac Moses assured me that the question would not be disrespectful and could be asked here.

God's name is written as the Tetragrammaton יהוה‎ (YHWH) in the Torah. The name is not vocalized in the manuscripts and I know it's considered ineffable by Jews and thus not said aloud. For that reason, the original pronunciation hasn't been preserved (as far as I know).

Christians commonly suggest the pronunciations Yahweh and Jehovah (which should of course be pronounced like "Yehovah"). Long ago I heard it claimed that the vocalization Jehovah is based on a misunderstanding, but I don't remember the reasoning.

What is the probable original vocalization?

  • 9
    The misunderstanding you refer to might be that thw vowels of word adonai were combined with the consonants of the Tetragrammaton, that produced the word you mention.
    – jona21
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 10:44
  • 1
    @Jona, That plus the "j" in German would sound like a "y", but when English speakers read it, they pronounce it like, well, a "j".
    – Ray
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 13:06
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    @Jona21: The vowels found in many printed books today are those of the word "l'olam".
    – Chanoch
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 12:52
  • "Jehovah" was a term invented, or at least first used, by the Spanish monk Raymundus Martini in his book Pugeo Fidei in the year 1270 A.D.
    – user3418
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 15:17
  • @user3418 (1) Raymundus Martini is the Latin form of the Spanish name Ramon Marti, who is commonly known in English as Raymond Martin. (2) He was not a monk; he was a friar. (3) The work which he published in 1270 was entitled 'Pugio Fidei'. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 7:50

5 Answers 5


In this recent blog post, Rabbi Ari Enkin paraphrases Israel Rubin in "The How & Why of Jewish Prayer" explaining that the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was lost during the Second Temple Period.

  • 2
    Is it really lost in a sense that no body really knows it?
    – user4951
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 12:39
  • I've heard Jews stop using God's name after the writing of septuagint. So we can still recover this very important name from septuagint. But then again, the greek may not be the best transliterator.
    – user4951
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 12:39
  • 1
    @JimThio, nobody is really worried about it. When Eliyahu comes back to proclaim the arrival of Mashiah, he ought to be able to teach us the correct pronunciation; he's heard it in use.
    – Seth J
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 15:22
  • Eliyahu comes back? Man that guy has been gone for like 2500 years.... Is this reincarnation thingy?
    – user4951
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 17:20
  • 1
    @JimThio it is not reincarnation, he never died according to Scripture. He was taken up in a whirlwind when the chariot of fire came, II KIngs 2:11: וַיְהִי, הֵמָּה הֹלְכִים הָלוֹךְ וְדַבֵּר, וְהִנֵּה רֶכֶב-אֵשׁ וְסוּסֵי אֵשׁ, וַיַּפְרִדוּ בֵּין שְׁנֵיהֶם; וַיַּעַל, אֵלִיָּהוּ, בַּסְעָרָה, הַשָּׁמָיִם.
    – user2411
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 11:29

Based on the verse in the Torah which says "I will be that which I will be" (אהיה אשר אהיה), it can be assumed that YKVK is a combination of the words 'Will be, is, was' (יהיה Yihiyeh, Hoveh הווה, haya היה) The best guess, as to its pronunciation would be taking each of the vowels from those words and transplanting it onto the letters in the name that correspond with that. I will leave it up to the discretion of the read to see how that works, in case I am correct.

Josephus writes, that the name was composed of 4 vowels and no consonant sounds. [Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter 5, verse 7]

How it was pronounced back then may also have no relation to how we would pronounce it today. How we pronounce letters today has likely shaped and morphed over time, based on the surrounding cultures that Jews found themselves. Thus Jews from Morocco or Yemen pronounce Hebrew very differently than Jews from Iraq or Iran, who pronounce things very differently than Jews from Germany or Europe, and there is a divide as well there between Eastern and western Europe. The difference in pronunciations shows itself mostly in vowels.

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    I don't know why the "best guess" is that the pronunciation is a combination of those words. And a citation to Josephus would be nice. +1 for the last paragraph: good point.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 15:14
  • Because Moshe asks Gd what his name is, and that is what he answers. And the Torah uses the Elokim before the answer, and YKVK as the source of the answer, and then goes back to using Elokim.
    – avi
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 15:23
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    @SethJ, hove has no dagesh in the vav, much as boche ("cries") has no dagesh in the chaf (even when spelled without a vav).
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 4:54
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    For the Josephus quote about the divine name having 4 vowels, see sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/war-5.htm. In Wars of the Jews, Book V, in chapter 5, verse 7, Josephus states, "A mitre also of fine linen encompassed his [the high priest's] head, which was tied by a blue ribbon, about which there was another golden crown, in which was engraven the sacred name [of God]: it consists of four vowels." I've updated your post to link to the reference. Commented May 19, 2016 at 21:17
  • 1
    I would argue your point that pronunciation differences show up mostly in vowels. It seems there are differences in pronunciation for half of the consonantal hebrew alef beit.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 2:13

Once I read an article that suggested a word that sounded like it only consisted of vowels. I'm not familiar with the standard pronunciation notation, so I can only write it in "pseudo code" based on English: ee[eagle]-aa[artist]-uu[without first j sound]-ehh[enter].

Unfortunately I can't remember the author and the title of the article, so it is just a note, not a real answer.

  • 1
    jona21, welcome to judaism.stackexchange.com, and thanks for the information. I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. It might help if you could give any bibliographic information you do remember about the article, such as the name of the periodical it appeared in.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 14:34

Shadal on Bereishit 2:4 conjectures that the Name was originally pronounced according to the vowel signs with which it is commonly printed today (a sheva on the yod, a cholam on the heh and a kamatz on the vav):

נ"ל כי הניקוד אשר הוא נקוד בו ברוב המקומות הוא הוא ניקודו העצמי

It appears to me that the vowels with which it is vowelized in most places, is indeed its intrinsic vowelization.


The Tetragrammaton is one example of the phenomenon called "k'ri u'k'siv" (קרי וכתיב), where the word written in the text is not the word spoken aloud by the reader. In printed Bibles, the k'siv, or word written in the text, remains in the main text, while the k'ri, the word actually read is put in a textual note. In older printings with manual layouts would put the k'ri in tiny letters in the margin with a note in the main text to direct the reader there. Because the letters were too small to add vowelizations, they would be put in the main text with the ksiv, and it was the readers job to apply the vowels in the text to the word in the margin.

In the case of the Tetragrammaton, the word is pronounced adonai, with the vowels patach, choilam, kamatz; i.e. ah-oi-aw. This would be printed with the letters of the Tetragrammaton, but not meant for those letters. Because it was so common, there would not be a note every time. So one who did not know better would naturally apply the ah-oi-aw to the letters j-h-v-h, rendering Jahova, but it is nothing more than a mistake.

The true pronunciation of G-d's name was only said aloud by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Since the Destruction of the Temple it is only known to those deemed worthy to learn it.

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    The aleph of Adonai has a chataf-patach, not a patach. The Tetragrammaton is printed with a sheva on the yod.
    – Joel K
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 4:30
  • That goes back to an old debate about the proper nikkud of the Tetragrammaton.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 8:22
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    I am unaware of opinions / manuscripts / printed texts that believe the yod is pointed with anything other than sheva (when meant to be read aleph-daled-nun-yod)
    – Joel K
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 8:31

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