The Hindi alphabet, more properly known as the Devanagari script, is used for 120 languages, including Hindi, Nepali, Marathi, and Sanskrit.
This makes it one of the most adopted writing systems globally.
If you’re learning Hindi, one of the many languages in the region or just planning to spend time in India, then learning how to read the alphabet is useful (and super interesting!).
In Devanagari, there are no distinct letter cases. The script is written left to right, and hangs from the printed lines rather than sitting on them like English.
There’s some variation between written and typed characters, but the variation is mostly insignificant.
Hindi pronunciation is important
If you want to be able to communicate well in Hindi, you have to speak with correct pronunciation.
Before you start learning the script, you should try to forget all the sounds you know how to make with your mouth, and be prepared to learn a whole new set of phonemes. If you don’t, people will struggle to understand you.
And if you try to speak at the pace a native speaker, they’ll have a hard time understanding you.
They’ll assume you’re speaking English (or your native language), since you’re speaking with unfamiliar phonemes.
Learning to pronounce Hindi correctly will require practice with native Hindi-speaker (see italki). Since Hindi is quite phonetic, the pronunciation of words is generally what the spelling shows. There are a few rules and exceptions you should know.
See the table below for Hindi consonants categorized by their sound type.
You can click throughout to hear the audio.
Each vowel in Hindi has two forms: an independent character, and a mātrā, or vowel marker.
A mātrā is added to a consonant to denote the vowel sound following it. First learn the independent characters, then their mātrās.
Listed below is the independent character, a consonant combined with the mātrā, and an example word using that vowel.
|अ a||क ka||कब kab|
|आ ā||का kā||बात bāt|
|इ i||िक ki||दिन din|
|ई ī||की kī||जीभ jībh|
|उ u||कु ku||डुबना ḍubnā|
|ऊ ū||कू kū||भूत bhūt|
|ओ o||को ko||जोश josh|
|औ au||कौ kau||शौक shauk|
|ए e||के ke||जेब jeb|
|ऐ ai||कै kai||कैसा kaisa|
|ऋ ṛ||कृ kṛ||कृपया kṛpya|
Independent characters vs. mātrā
The independent character can be used in two different situations. First, if a word starts with a vowel sound, then the independent character is used.
ए e + क k = एक ek
The other way the independent character can be used is when two vowels are together, with not consonant in the middle.
क k + अ a + ई i = कई kai
The mātrā for a vowel is used when the vowel sound is after a consonant.
क k + ए e + क k = केक kek
Notice below how these two mātrās are written to the right of the consonant, rather than under it. These are the only two exceptions.
र r + उ u = रु ru र r + ऊ ū = रू rū
Conjuncts in Hindi
It is very important to be familiar with common conjuncts in Hindi.
A conjunct is when two consonants combine together, eliminating any vowel sound in between.
In English, the x sound can be written ks.
There are two ways to write this in Hindi. The easiest way is to add a slanted line, called a virām, under the first letter.
This indicates that there is no vowel sound between the two consonants.
क्स ks This way is very simple, but unfortunately it is not common. The more common way is to just remove the right portion of the first letter (usually the vertical line) and stick it next to the second letter.
Here are some more examples:
- स् s + त t = स्त st → रास्ता rāstā
- न् n + द d = न्द nd → बन्द band
- म् m + ब b = म्ब mb → लम्बा lambā
Exceptions with ‘r’
This rule will work for most conjuncts, but conjuncts with ‘r’ are formed differently.
The first type is called the flying ‘r’.
This is used when the first of the two letters in a conjunct is ‘r’.
- र् r + क k = र्क rk → पार्क pārk
- र् r + द d = र्द rd → दर्द dard
The second type is used when ‘r’ is the second of the two letters in a conjunct.
- क् k + र r = क्र kr → क ्रम kram
- त् t + र r = त्र tr → पात्र pātr
Take this word as an example: हिन्दी hindī
This same word, may also be written like this: हिंदी, with no change in pronunciation.
The difference is that the ‘n’ consonant is replaced by a ‘bindu,’ or dot, above the line.
Both of these spellings are correct.
The bindu indicates that the vowel sound under it is nasalized.
Sometimes you may see a chandrabindu is used instead of a bindu.
- हाँ hān
Here are some more examples.
- लम्बा lambā
- अण्डा anḍā
Anytime you see a bindu ं or a moon dot ँ above a word, it denotes that the vowel underneath it should be nasalized. The difference between a nasalized vowel and a non-nasalized vowel is like the different between the two English words stop and stomp. Since p is a labial consonant, the nasal sound is like m. Another example is bid and bend. Since d is a dental consonant, the nasal sound is like n. The first three words in the next section are examples of nasalization.
There are several words that have more than one correct spelling.
Here are few examples with nasal sounds:
Alternative spellings are found at the end of commands as well.
Consonant Ending Words
When a word ends in a consonant, the inherent a sound is not pronounced.
The Hindi word for name is नाम.
Silent Inherent Vowels
Sometimes an inherent vowel in the middle of a word is not heard.
It usually occurs after the second consonant. If the third consonant is followed by a vowel marker or a fourth consonant, then the second consonants inherent vowel is not heard.
The Hindi word for second is दूसरा.
The inherent vowel of स is not heard. It is pronounced doosra, not doosara.
Words Ending in य
If the last consonant in a word is य, and if the consonant before य does not have a vowel marker, then य sounds like the ए sound.
The Hindi word for time is समय.
Words Ending in व
If the last consonant in a word is व, then it often sounds like अो.
The Hindi word for village is गांव.
Before learning grammar, it is important to be able to read and correctly pronounce Hindi words.
Try to say the word by reading it, then check yourself by hovering your mouse over it to listen to it. You may have to listen several times before you can say it correctly. Do not worry about the meaning of these words, some of them are not even real words.
Just focus on saying them correctly. In the words below, each of the common letters is used at least once.
Now try these simple sentences:
|मेरा नाम अमित है।||Listen|
|आपकी किताब मेज़ पर है।||Listen|
|मैं भारत में जाना चाहता हूँ।||Listen|
|क्या वह मेरे घर आएगी?||Listen|
|हम मसूरी कब जाएंगे?||Listen|
|उसको भूख लग रही है।||Listen|
The Hindi alphabet is easier than it looks
That should get you started reading Hindi/Devanagari.
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