Kaph (also spelled kaf) is the eleventh letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician kāp 𐤊Phoenician kaph.svg, Hebrew kāf כ, Aramaic kāp 𐡊Kaph.svg, Syriac kāp̄ ܟܟ, and Arabic kāf ك‎ (in abjadi order).

כ ,ך
Phonemic representationk, x
Position in alphabet11
Numerical value20
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician
GreekΚ, Χ?, Ψ?
LatinK, X?
CyrillicК, Х?, Ѱ?

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek kappa (Κ), Latin K, and Cyrillic К.

Origin of kaphEdit

Kaph is thought to be derived from a pictogram of a hand (in both modern Arabic and modern Hebrew, kaph כף means "palm" or "grip"), though in Arabic the a in the name of the letter (كاف) is pronounced longer than the a in the word meaning "palm" (كَف).


Hebrew kafEdit

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
כ כ כ    

Hebrew spelling: כַּףְ

Hebrew pronunciationEdit

The letter kaf is one of the six letters that can receive a dagesh kal. The other five are bet, gimel, daleth, pe, and tav (see Hebrew alphabet for more about these letters).

There are two orthographic variants of this letter that alter the pronunciation:

Name Symbol IPA Transliteration[1] Example
Kaf כּ [k] k kangaroo
Khaf כ [χ] or [x] ch, kh, or k loch

Kaf with the dageshEdit

When the kaph has a "dot" in its center, known as a dagesh, it represents a voiceless velar plosive ([k]). There are various rules in Hebrew grammar that stipulate when and why a dagesh is used.

Kaf without the dagesh (khaf)Edit

When this letter appears as כwithout the dagesh ("dot") in its center it represents [χ], like the ch in German "Bach".

In modern Israeli Hebrew the letter heth is often pronounced as a [χ], but many communities (particularly those of Mizrahi and Sephardi origins, as well as immigrants to Israel from Arab countries and Arab Israelis) have differentiated between these letters as in other Semitic languages.

Final form of kafEdit

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
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ך ך ך    

If the letter is at the end of a word the symbol is drawn differently. However, it does not change the pronunciation or transliteration in any way. The name for the letter is final kaf (kaf sofit). Four additional Hebrew letters take final forms: tsadi, mem, nun, and pei. Kaf/khaf is the only Hebrew letter that can take a vowel in its word-final form, which is pronounced after the consonant, that vowel being the qamatz.

Name Alternate name Symbol
Final kaf Kaf sofit ךּ
Final khaf Khaf sofit ך

Significance of kaph in HebrewEdit

In gematria, kaph represents the number 20. Its final form represents 500, but this is rarely used, tav and qoph (400+100) being used instead.

As a prefix, kaph is a preposition:

  • It can mean "like" or "as", as in literary Arabic (see below).
  • In colloquial Hebrew, kaph and shin together have the meaning of "when". This is a contraction of כַּאֲשֶׁר‎, ka'asher (when).

Arabic kāfEdit

The letter is named kāf, and it is written in several ways depending on its position in the word.

There are three variants of the letter:

  • the basic form is used for the Arabic language and many other languages:
Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ك ـك ـكـ كـ
  • the cross-barred form, notably al-kāf al-mashkūlah or al-kāf al-mashqūqah,[2] is used predominantly as an alternative form of the version above in all forms of Arabic and in the languages that use the Perso-Arabic script.
Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ک ـک ـکـ کـ
  • the long s-shaped variant form, al-kāf al-mabsūṭah,[3] which is used in Arabic texts and for writing the Qur'an. It has a particular use in the Sindhi language of Pakistan, where it represents the unaspirated /k/, in contrast to the aspirated /kʰ/, which is written using the "normal" kāf ک (called keheh).
Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ڪ ـڪ ـڪـ ڪـ

In varieties of Arabic kāf is almost universally pronounced as the voiceless velar plosive /k/, but in rural Palestinian and Iraqi, it is pronounced as a voiceless postalveolar affricate [t͡ʃ].

Use in literary ArabicEdit

In Literary Arabic, kāf is used as a prefix meaning "like", "as", or "as though". For example, كَطَائِر (/katˤaːʔir/), meaning "like a bird" or "as though a bird" (as in Hebrew, above). The prefix كَـ ka is one of the Arabic words for "like" or "as" (the other, مِثْل /miθl/, is unrelated). The /ka/ prefix sometimes has been added to other words to create fixed constructions. For instance, it is prefixed to ذٰلِك /ðaːlik/ "this, that" to form the fixed word كَذٰلِك /kaðaːlik/ "like so, likewise."

kāf is used as a possessive suffix for second-person singular nouns (feminine taking kāf-kasrah كِ, /ki/ and masculine kāf-fatḥah كَ /ka/); for instance, كِتَاب kitāb ("book") becomes كِتَابُكَ kitābuka ("your book", where the person spoken to is masculine) كِتَابُكِ kitābuki ("your book", where the person spoken to is feminine). At the ends of sentences and often in conversation the final vowel is suppressed, and thus كِتَابُك kitābuk ("your book"). In several varieties of vernacular Arabic, however, the kāf with no harakat is the standard second-person possessive, with the literary Arabic harakah shifted to the letter before the kāf: thus masculine "your book" in these varieties is كِتَابَك kitābak and feminine "your book" كِتَابِك kitābik.

Character encodingsEdit

Character information
Encodings decimal hex
Numeric character reference

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Transliteration Rules, Encyclopedia Judaica.
  2. ^ Gacek, Adam (2008). The Arabic manuscript tradition: a glossary of technical terms and bibliography: supplement. Leiden: Brill. p. 43. ISBN 978-9004165403.
  3. ^ Gacek, Adam (2008). The Arabic manuscript tradition: a glossary of technical terms and bibliography: supplement. Leiden: Brill. p. 8. ISBN 978-9004165403.