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Arabic is written from right to left. There are 18 distinct letter shapes, which vary slightly depending on whether they are connected to another letter before or after them. There are no “capital” letters.

The full alphabet of 28 letters is created by placing various combinations of dots above or below some of these shapes. (An animated version of the alphabet shows the correct way to move the pen).

The three long vowels are included in written words but the three short vowels are normally omitted – though they can be indicated by marks above and below other letters.

For more about reading and writing Arabic, see: Learning the alphabet

Although the Arabic alphabet as we know it today appears highly distinctive, the Latin, Greek, Phoenician, Aramaic, Nabatian alphabets probably share some common ancestry. Other languages – such as Persian, Urdu and Malay – use adaptations of the Arabic script.

The numerals used in most parts of the world – 1, 2, 3, etc – were originally Arabic, though many Arab countries use Hindi numerals