6. Sīn, shīn, baṛī he, nūn, and nūn-e ġhunna


In Urdu, the sound s, or स, is represented by three different letters. By far the most common of these is sīn (the others will be introduced in Chapters 7 and 9). In its standard form, sīn has three teeth, smaller than those of the be series and written close together. In the independent and final forms, these are attached to a bowl like that of lām:

Here are some words featuring sīn:


sabab ‘reason’


lěhsan ‘garlic’


sāl ‘year’


bas ‘enough’


sās ‘mother-in-law’

Sīn can be written in two ways. Sometimes, in place of the three teeth it may also be written with a long, gentle curve. This is especially common in handwriting. While this form is often used for its aesthetic appeal, it also has a more practical function: to help distinguish two sīns when they appear side by side. Rather than write six small teeth in a row, you may optionally replace one of the sets of teeth with a smooth line:


sastā ‘cheap’


In the center of the image below, above the magazines, hangs an advertisement for the Express newspaper. The first sīn of Ekspres is written with teeth, but the second is not. Can you find another sīn missing its teeth in the advertisement on the right-hand side? What word is written there?

Image source: Daniel Majchrowicz.


In calligraphy, it is possible to stretch letters indefinitely in a technique called kashīda, as seen in bism, the first word below:

This long line can sometimes look like a a sīn without teeth, even when it isn’t one. In order to avoid confusion, calligraphers will sometimes write a small initial sīn above or below the actual sīn. Can you spot this mark in the image below?

Image source: Daniel Majchrowicz.


The letter shīn is used to write the sound sh or श (as well as retroflex ष, which is not distinguished in Urdu script). Once you’ve mastered the letter sīn, writing shīn is simple. Simply write a sīn, and then add three dots above the main line. The dots should be arranged such that there are two at the bottom and the third nestled between them above:

Here are some examples:


shādī ‘wedding’


tāsh ‘playing cards’


shukriya ‘thanks’

Like sīn, shin can be written in two ways: with teeth, and as an elongated curve. In either case, the dots should be centered above the letter.


The image below includes a long sīn and a toothed shīn, both marked with a small initial sīn / shīn below. Can you spot all of these on this bus’s destination board?

Image source: Daniel Majchrowicz.

Baṛī he

In the previous chapter, you learned that there are two ways to write the sound h or ह. Usually, we use chhoṭī he, but sometimes we instead use its sibling, baṛī he. Baṛī he looks exactly like jīm, but without any dot:

Baṛī he only appears in words derived from Arabic. It is used to write a range of common words in Urdu, for instance:


hāl ‘condition’


muhabbat / mohabbat ‘love’


mahěl ‘palace’


rūh ‘soul’


masīh ‘Messiah’


What sweet treat does this package contain?
Halāl mārshmelo (halal marshmallows).

Image source: David Boyk.


The letter nūn is used to represent the sound n or न. (It is also used for the retroflex ण, as well as the nasal sounds represented in Hindi script with the rarely used letters ङ and ञ.) In the initial and medial forms, nūn looks like a be-series letter, with one dot above the tooth. In the final and independent forms, nūn takes on a bowl shape extending below the baseline, such that its dot is located near the baseline itself:

Here are some words contaning nūn:


hinā ‘henna’


měhnat ‘labor’


nān ‘naan bread’


nānī ‘maternal grandmother’


gunāh ‘sin’


Hindi-Urdu verbs consist of a stem that is often followed by a suffix. For instance, the verb bannā ‘to become’ contains the stem ban and the suffix -nā, which indicates the infinitive form. With the same stem, we can make other forms of the verb, like bantā ‘becomes,’ banegā ‘will become,’ banā ‘became,’ and so forth.

In Chapter 3, we introduced the tashdīd and said that consonants are not written twice except when there is a vowel in between them. However, in both Hindi and Urdu scripts, verb suffixes are an exception to this rule. Because a suffix is a separate unit of meaning that is added on to the stem, when it begins with the last letter of the stem, they are both written, even though there is no vowel between them. Thus we have:


bannā बनना ‘to become’


sunnā सुनना ‘to hear’

This rule is not exclusive to nūn:

وہ ہمیشہ جیتتا ہے۔

वह हमेशा जीतता है।

Wo hamesha jīttā hai.

He always wins.

Nasalization with nūn-e ġhunna

Nasalization refers to that quality of pronouncing a vowel sound through your nose, marked in Hindi script by the chandrabindu, as in the word hāñ हाँ  ‘yes.’ In Urdu script, nasalization is represented by a derivative form of the letter nūn called nūn-e ġhunna (or nūn ġhunna), ‘nasal nūn’:

In the final and independent forms, nūn-e ġhunna looks like nūn, but without any dot:


kareñ ‘would do’


yahañ ‘here’


maiñ ‘I’ / meñ ‘in’


nahīñ ‘no’


haiñ ‘are’


běhneñ ‘sisters’

In the initial and medial forms, nūn-e ġhunna looks identical to the regular nūn (though it is occasionally marked with a sukūn or a small semicircular diacritic):


sāñs ‘breath’


bāñsurī ‘flute’


muñh ‘mouth’


As we mentioned in Chapter 4, chhoṭī he and do-chashmī he can be used interchangeably. A do-chashmī he often takes the place of a chhoṭī he when it follows either a nūn-e ġhunna or a nasal consonant (n or m) with a sukūn—in terms of Hindi script, a chandrabindu or a nasal half-letter. In other words, it is as if we are writing an aspirated mh or nh.

These are some words that you might see spelled in this alternate way:


muñh मुँह ‘mouth’


tumhārā तुम्हारा ‘your’


unheñ उन्हें ‘to them’

انھوں نے

unhoñ ne उन्होंने / उन्हों ने ‘they’ (with a perfect transitive verb)

The use of nūn-e ġhunna can sometimes be a bit counterintuitive, especially when a nasal vowel comes before a sound like p or b and thus you might expect to use a mīm:


sañp ‘snake’


kāñpnā, ‘to tremble’


One place where a final nūn-e ġhunna is used in the middle of a word is in a future-tense verb. This is because the gā / ge / gī suffix that marks these verbs is usually written as a separate word:

کتا چلے گا

kuttā chalegā ‘the dog will go’

بلی چلے گی

billī chalegī ‘the cat will go’

کتے چلیں گے

kutte chaleñge ‘the dogs will go’

بلیاں چلیں گی

billiyāñ chaleñgī ‘the cats will go’


Some sounds can be represented by multiple Urdu letters.

Nasal vowels are written with nūn-e ġhunna, which looks like an ordinary nūn in the initial and medial positions.

In this chapter, we introduced these letters:





sīn सीन

s स


shīn शीन

sh श


baṛī he बड़ी हे

h ह


nūn नून

n न


nūn-e ġhunna (nūn-ġhunna) नून-ए-ग़ुन्ना (नून-ग़ुन्ना)

ñ ँ






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