Learn The Hindi (Devanagari) Alphabet [Easy Guide + Audio]

  • Yodet Addisalem
    Written byYodet Addisalem
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Learn The Hindi (Devanagari) Alphabet [Easy Guide + Audio]

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.

Hindi consonants

See the table below for Hindi consonants categorized by their sound type.

You can click throughout to hear the audio.

Unvoiced Voiced
Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Stop VelarPlay audioPlay audioPlay audioPlay audio
RetroflexPlay audioPlay audioPlay audioPlay audio
DentalPlay audioPlay audioPlay audioPlay audio
BilabialPlay audioPlay audioPlay audioPlay audio
Affricate Post-alveolarPlay audioPlay audioPlay audioPlay audio
Flap RetroflexPlay audioड़Play audioढ़
AlveolarPlay audio
Nasal AlveolarPlay audio
BilabialPlay audio
Nasal Flap RetroflexPlay audio
Fricative AlveolarPlay audio
Post-alveolarPlay audio
RetroflexPlay audio
GlottalPlay audio
Approximate PalatalPlay audio
BilabialPlay audio
DentalPlay audio

Hindi vowels

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.

Vowel Mātrā Example
a ka कब kab
ā का बात bāt
i िक ki दिन din
ī की जीभ jībh
u कु ku डुबना ḍubnā
ū कू भूत bhūt
o को ko जोश josh
au कौ kau शौक shauk
e के ke जेब jeb
ai कै kai कैसा kaisa
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.

e + k = एक ek

The other way the independent character can be used is when two vowels are together, with not consonant in the middle.

k + a + i = कई kai

The mātrā for a vowel is used when the vowel sound is after a consonant.

k + e + k = केक kek

Exceptions

Notice below how these two mātrās are written to the right of the consonant, rather than under it. These are the only two exceptions.

r + u = रु ru r + ū = रू

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 + t = स्त st → Play audioरास्ता rāstā
  • न् n + d = न्द nd → Play audioबन्द band
  • म् m + b = म्ब mb → Play audioलम्बा 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 + k = र्क rk → Play audioपार्क pārk
  • र् r + d = र्द rd → Play audioदर्द dard

The second type is used when ‘r’ is the second of the two letters in a conjunct.

  • क् k + r = क्र kr → Play audioक्रम kram
  • त् t + r = त्र tr → Play audioपात्र pātr

Nasalization

Take this word as an example: Play audioहिन्दी 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.

  • Play audioहाँ hān

Here are some more examples.

  • Play audioलम्बा lambā
  • Play audioअण्डा 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.

Alternative Spellings

There are several words that have more than one correct spelling.

Here are few examples with nasal sounds:

Word Variation Meaning
हिंदी हिन्दी Hindi
लंबा लम्बा long, tall
अंडा अण्डा egg

Alternative spellings are found at the end of commands as well.

Word Variation Meaning
बैठिए बैठिये sit
जाइए जाइये go
आइए आइये come

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.

Reading Practice

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.

Play audioहिन्दीPlay audioखानाPlay audioबागPlay audioघीटPlay audioजैन
Play audioझमPlay audioज़िन्दाPlay audioचौथाPlay audioछोटाPlay audioठोक
Play audioडालनाPlay audioढालPlay audioबड़ाPlay audioपीढ़ाPlay audioकारण
Play audioधनPlay audioफलPlay audioफ़ोनPlay audioभागनाPlay audioयात्रा
Play audioरेलवेPlay audioसातPlay audioशीशाPlay audioकष्टPlay audioहाल

Now try these simple sentences:

मेरा नाम अमित है।Play audioListen
आपकी किताब मेज़ पर है।Play audioListen
मैं भारत में जाना चाहता हूँ।Play audioListen
क्या वह मेरे घर आएगी?Play audioListen
हम मसूरी कब जाएंगे?Play audioListen
उसको भूख लग रही है।Play audioListen

The Hindi alphabet is easier than it looks

That should get you started reading Hindi/Devanagari.

One of the best courses that covers writing lessons for Devanagari is Rocket Hindi, and there’s also HindiPod101 for conversational audio lessons.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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Mark Bücker

Mark Bücker

Thank you Yodet for this very useful introduction. I will definitely recommend this.
Mark

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