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Israel Defense Forces 

Last updated - 26.06.2002
Author - Oleg Granovsky

Translated and edited by Noam Primak

About the Hebrew Language


1. General Comments
2. Noun Conjugation
3. Acronym Formation
4. "Gimatria"
5. Radio Code

General comments

Throughout the years, many books and articles were written dedicated to the IDF, or in some way related to it. Many English-speaking authors often unfortunately make some mistakes with Hebrew terms or names.
This has inspired us to write an article not necessarily directly related to the IDF or military history, but to the Hebrew language itself.

To help the reader understand the Hebrew terminology that appears in the articles, some comments are in order:
  • 1. Hebrew has 22 letters, representing only consonant sounds. Vowels are represented with dots (nekudot) placed under, over, or left of the letter (Hebrew is written right to left). Vowelization (nikud) is used in children's books, dictionaries, textbooks, poetry and scripture. Otherwise it is used only for individual words that have multiple vowelizations. The "ee" sound is often represented by the letter "yud" instead of the corresponding vowel, while the "oh" and "oo" sounds are represented by the letter "vav."
  • 2. Hebrew is a "phonetic" language. Unlike English, it does not have long and short vowel sounds. Hebrew vowel sounds correspond to the English long vowels in their "shape", but their "length" is shorter, and they lack the "roundness" which foreign speakers of English find so difficult to pronounce. Therefore, we will write words like rove (rifle) without the usual 'h's that are used to convey the Hebrew vowel sound (see below). Instead of "roveh" (which suggests something like "row-vay") we will opt for rove.
  • 3. In the transliterations of Hebrew words, note the following:
    • a. All Hebrew words are shown in italics. Transliteration is phonetic.
    • b. Kh, not ch or h, will indicate the letters Khet or Khaf (i.e. Khanuka, not Chanukah or Hanukkah). H is the same as in English.
    • c. As above, the 'h' will not be used to indicate vowel sounds. Instead:
      • i. an 'a' is spoken like the 'a' in "farce"
      • ii. an 'e' is spoken like the 'e' in "fence"
      • iii. an 'o' is spoken like the 'o' in "force"
      • iv. an 'i' is like the 'ee' in "feel" but shorter.
      • v. a 'u' is like the 'oo' in "fool" but shorter.
    • d. Apostrophes indicate a guttural stop. This simply means that the vowels are distinct (more or less), not combined as in English. e.g. ba'it (house), ba'al zvuv (beelzebub), etc.
  • 4. Alef, hey, khet, kuf, and a'in represent guttural sounds. Alef and a'in are, in practice, silent for most speakers (though some Israelis, especially those from Arab countries, pronounce the gutturals distinctly, so that one can hear a difference between khet and khaf, etc.) Khet represents a sound like the German or Scottish ch, but more guttural. Kuf and hey correspond to the English K and H respectively. A hey at the end of a word is silent, but represents a vowel, usually "a" or "e".
  • 5. The root of a Hebrew word consists of 3 letters (sometimes 2 or 4). Thus merkava ("chariot", or the Israeli-produced tank), and rekhev (vehicle), both derive from the root R-Kh-V (reish-khaf-vet).
  • 6. Reish is pronounced by most Israelis like the French or German 'R', but usually "harder", or more guttural. An alternative, equally acceptable, pronunciation is very similar to the Spanish or Italian 'R'.
  • 7. Lamed is pronounced like a French, Spanish or Italian 'L' (never like an American English 'L').
  • 8. If you see a term like "ha-mossad le-modi'in u-le-tafkidim meyukhadim", note the following:
    • a. Articles, conjunctions, and certain prepositions do not exist as words but are attached to the beginning of a word. In Hebrew there is no hyphen.
    • b. le-, me-/mi-, and be-, mean "to", "from"/"of", and "in"
    • c. ha- is the definite article "the"; there is no indefinite article
    • d. If a word is prefixed with both one of the above prepositions and the definite article, the two are combined as follows: 'be-' + 'ha-' = 'ba'; 'le-' + 'ha-' = 'la'; etc. So ha-ba'it = "the house"; ba-ba'it = "in the house".
  • 9. More often than not, the stress in Hebrew words is on the last syllable (all of the words in #9 above follow this rule; incidentally this is the complete name of the "Mossad"). One exception is certain bi-syllabic nouns (stressed on the first syllable). e.g. ra'am (thunder).

Noun Conjugation

Nouns are conjugated if two or more follow consecutively. In the case of a noun immediately following another noun, where the first is singular feminine, or plural masculine, the ending of the first noun is modified. A military brigade numbered 101 would be khativa 101, but the IDF paratroop brigade is khativat ha-tzankhanim. The final tav ('t') indicates the possessive attribute of the phrase.


Acronym Formation

Hebrew makes liberal use of abbreviations (rashey tevot), especially in military jargon. Most are read as acronyms rather than sets of letters, and there are no hard-and-fast rules for forming these acronyms. Compare the English APC (armored personnel carrier) to its equivalent NaGMaSh, which is formed from Nose Gyasot MeSHuryan (the capitalization is used to illustrate that the acronym is formed from four Hebrew letters; henceforth such words will be written as NAGMASH). The 'a's in NAGMASH are just a vowelization, to make the word easy to say in Hebrew. It would be inefficient (and tiresome) to pronounce each letter, since in Hebrew some letter names are multi-syllabic (i.e. the above APC, which is actually written NGMSh, would be a "nun-gimel-mem-shin"). Most acronyms are vowelized with the a sound, but if they contain a vav or yud, they can be read with the o/u or i sound, respectively.
As another example, take MAGAV (Israel's Border Police) formed from Mishmar ha-GVul (first letter and first two letters). Some acronyms are read as letters: mem-mem for mefaked makhlaka (platoon commander); mem-pey for mefaked pluga (company commander).



Each Hebrew letter has a traditional number "equivalent" derived from Jewish numerology. This is used in certain numbering systems (most notably in the Hebrew lunar calendar) and appears in a few military terms. For example, the М48/М60 tank series is termed MAGAH (mem-gimel-khet). In gimatria this corresponds to 40+3+8, i.e. 48+3, for the М48А3 tank (the first model standardized by the IDF). As new models were obtained, the following terms were used: MAGAH-3 (М48А3), MAGAH-5 (М48А5), MAGAH-6 (M60) MAGAH-7 (modernized М60А1/А3).


The phonetic alphabet

Individual letters are spoken in military communication using the so-called "phonetic alphabet" (alef-bet foneti).

Letter Sound Code Word Number Equivalent
Alef - Alef 1
Bet (Vet) B (V) Boaz 2
Gimel G Gimel 3
Dalet D David 4
Hey H Hagar 5
Vav V Vav 6
Zain Z Ze'ev 7
kHet kH Khana 8
Tet T Tit 9
Yud, Yod Y Yona 10
Kaf (Haf) K (H) Carmel 20
Lamed L Le'a 30
Mem M Moshe 40
Nun N Nesher 50
Sameh S Sameh 60
Ain - Ain 70
Pey (Fey) P (F) Pesel 80
Tzadi Tz Tzipor 90
Kuf K Koreah 100
Reish R Rut 200
Shin (Sin) Sh (S) Shamir 300
Tav T Telem 400


For compasion - Alpha Code, the standard radio code used in English:

Letter Code word
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whisky
X X-Ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu


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