South Asia Language Resource Center - Tamilweb

தொடக்கப் பக்கம்(Home)
மேலோட்ட விளக்கம் (Overview)
இணைப்பு உதவி (Technical Help)

தொடக்கப் பக்கம் (Home) Consonants  Alphabet chart  How to write Tamil letters?  Exercises for Alphabet   How to make syllables

      Tamil Alphabet

      Tamil orthography consists of twelve vowels and eighteen consonants and each of these sounds is represented by an unique letter. Alphabet system of this language is believed to be a derivation from the ancient Brahmi script (5th century BCE to 4th century BCE), which serves as a source for most of the Indian languages. Tamil is a syllabic language where the consonant/vowel combination is represented by a composite form of consonant and a secondary symbol for each vowel. In most cases, a secondary symbol is added either before or after the consonant to make up the syllable, but in a few cases the consonant is slightly modified to form a new shape. Thus, syllables in Tamil are derived by a combination of twelve vowels and eighteen consonants which form a total of two hundred and sixteen different characters or otherwise called graphemes.

      To understand how a syllable is formed in Tamil, consider the Tamil proper name Balu, which is written in English with four different letters, each corresponding to either a consonant or a vowel and combining to form syllables (hence, 'B' and 'a' form the syllable 'Ba'). In Tamil 'Balu' is written as the combination of two symbols each of which represents one syllable, Ba and lu: பாலு, where the two symbols are பா and லு. The long vowel ஆ (aa), when combined with a consonant is marked by the a secondary symbol along side of the 'pure' consonant (i.e., the consonant in isolation or when geminated); e.g., ப் + ஆ --> பா. Similarly, the short vowel உ (u) is combined with the pure consonant ல் (l) to form the syllable லு (lu). Thus, in Tamil the syllables are made either with a secondary symbol placed either before or after pure consonants, or with a change in the original shape of the consonants.

      Tamil Vowels

      Vowel sounds are produced with the tongue placed in different parts of the mouth. When pronouncing the vowels இ, எ, அ, ஒ, உ i, e, a o, u, tongue moves from back part of the mouth to the front. Based on the tongue positions, the vowels இ i and எ e are named front vowels, அ a a mid vowel and ஒ o and உ u back vowels.

      Short Vowels

      a as in that, gun
      i as in it, this
      u as in book, took
      e as in then, when
      o as in hotel, motel

      Long Vowels

      Short vowels have their long counterparts ஈ, ஏ, ஆ, ஓ, and ஊ ii, ee, aa oo, and uu. Unlike the short vowels these sounds are produced with the release of air from mouth for a slightly extended period of time than their short counterparts, and hence they are called long vowels. Following table shows a list of long vowels with example English words containing each of these sounds.

      Letter Pronunciation  
      aa as in got, taught
      ii as in sweet, treat
      uu as in tool, cool
      ee as in tale, there
      oo as in coat, boat


      Besides the above ten short and long vowels, there exists two other vowles called dipthongs. They include ஐ ai as in 'kite' and ஔ au as in 'cow'. These sounds are produced by a combination of two voweles namely a and i; and a and u respectively. While making these sounds, tongue moves from the position of the first vowel to the other. In spoken Tamil, however, these two dipthongs are produced with the combination of vowel and corresponding glides namely y and v respectively, as in அய் and அவ்.

© South Asia Language Resource Center (SALRC)