Biblical Hebrew Alphabet: The Letters “Sin” and “Shin”

Near the end of the biblical Hebrew alphabet are two interesting-looking letters:

שׂ

The name of this letter in biblical Hebrew is “sin” (pronounced: “seen”). The letter itself makes the sound “s.”

שׁ

The name of this letter in biblical Hebrew is “shin” (pronounced: “sheen”). The letter itself makes the sound “sh.”

These letters are beautiful. To me, they look like a candelabra, and that image is how I remember them.

Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Languages
Photo by Daniel von Appen at Unsplash

When you first learn these letters, it is hard to tell them apart. They look almost identical. The difference between these two letters is in the placement of the dot. Notice that “sin” has the dot in the upper left corner while “shin” has the dot in the upper right corner.

The letter “sin” (upper left dot) makes a sound like the English “s.” The letter “shin” (upper right dot) makes a sound like the English “sh.”

The letter “sin” comes before the letter “shin” in the biblical Hebrew alphabet.

You will encounter the letter “shin” (upper right dot) many more times than the letter “sin” (upper left dot). It’s just more commonly used in more words.

However, you need to pay careful attention when you learn a new word that contains one of these letters. Look closely and make sure your eyes are seeing it clearly. Is it a “shin” like you’re used to seeing? Or could it possibly be a “sin” this time? That letter “sin” will sneak up on you.

Often, I miss the fact that I’m looking at a “sin,” and I think it’s a “shin.” I find out otherwise when I try to look up the word in the lexicon. I can’t find it! If you are flipping through pages and pages of words that start with “shin,” and you simply cannot find the word, double-check and make sure it’s not a “sin.” When you realize the letter really is a “sin,” move one section over in the lexicon, and you will find the word there. This has happened to me so many times, and yet I still do it.

And now, here’s a lexicon practice exercise for you, using “sin” and “shin.” Invite God to join you in this exercise and enjoy spending this time with Him.

Take a look in your lexicon right now and go to the words listed under “sin” and “shin.” Spend some time looking through the words and definitions. Find one word that starts with “sin” and one word that starts with “shin” that you would like to learn and memorize. Read through the definitions. Look up the biblical references. Work on pronunciation.

Can you make a simple prayer (in English) using your two new words? Not necessarily together, but a simple, one-sentence prayer for each word? Say that prayer to God, inserting your new biblical Hebrew words into your prayer.

Shalom.

שָׁלוֹם

Interested in getting a taste of biblical Hebrew? There’s more to learn on my biblical Hebrew blog.

Want to jump into the basics of biblical Hebrew? Here’s a beginning biblical Hebrew course I offer online.