I need help in how to spell the Arabic name (سعد). I previously asked the question Sa'ad : Correct spelling in English and French; however, it got closed.

I added a youtube video describing how it is pronounced, so experts can listen and try to describe how it would be spelled.

Based on the FAQ, Spelling and punctuation are acceptable questions.

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    It would have been better to edit your other question: it might then be reopened. This is just a duplicate. english.stackexchange.com/faq#close
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 15, 2012 at 9:48
  • possible duplicate of Sa'ad : Correct spelling in English and French
    – user10893
    Jul 15, 2012 at 15:33
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    When he was preparing ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ for publication, T E Lawrence wrote as follows to his publisher, who had noted inconsistencies in the spelling of Arabic names: ‘Arabic names won’t go into English, exactly, for their consonants are not the same as ours, and their vowels, like ours, vary from district to district. There are some “scientific systems” of transliteration, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a washout for the world. I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are.’ Jul 15, 2012 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


Transliterations of Arabic names tend to follow fairly set principles, but there is some variation when it comes treatment of ع (ayn). Which one you should go for depends largely on your target audience:

  1. The most formal, linguistically precise version is to use an open quote mark, “ ‘ ” (the closed quote “ ’ ” being reserved for the glottal stop). Hence, Sa‘ad.
  2. In some academic contexts, you’ll sometimes see “9” (e.g., here). This may be because “ ’ ” is too easily overlooked (though I suspect the convention has crept in under the influence of Word, because some people can’t figure out how turn off smart quotes, and I emphatically deprecate it.) Hence, Sa9ad.

  3. Outside academia, if ع is indicated at all, then it tends to be by a close quote. Hence, Sa’ad.

  4. Frequently, though, all nonalphabetic symbols and diacritics are dispensed with. (This is, for instance, the house style of The Economist, so hardly to be sniffed at.) Hence, Saad.
  5. Finally, depending where your سعد is from, the second a in his name may not be at all prominent (not the case in your youtube snippet). So, you’ll sometimes see Sa‘d or Sa’d. (The latter was used, e.g., for the 1920’s Egyptian prime minister, along with Saad).

In the title of Reem Bassiouney’s recent novel, Professor Hanaa, the aa stands for a plus glottal stop, rather than a long a or a plus ع. So, the risk you run by avoiding nonalphabetic symbols is that people won’t know precisely which pronunciation you have in mind. But then, unless your readers know some Arabic, it’s unlikely that an apostrophe or other symbol would settle matters.

When I was editing a book a couple of years ago that included a large number of Arabic, Hebrew and Ottoman names, I went with The Economist’s house style, on the recommendation of a Middle East historian. I think the same option works as well for any general audience.

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    Thanks for the interesting and informative answer. BTW, The Economist only eschews diacritics when transliterating from a non-Latin alphabet like Arabic. For European languages that already use the standard Latin alphabet along with certain diacritics (such as German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese all do), here The Economist will explicitly and intentionally retain the original version’s diacritics, something particularly noticeable with proper nouns but which occurs elsewhere as well.
    – tchrist
    Jul 15, 2012 at 13:10
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    Thanks for the great explanation. I had seen styles 4 and 5 and was confused as well. I'll keep it open a couple more days, before choosing an answer.
    – Nasir
    Jul 15, 2012 at 15:52
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    @tchrist Thanks, yes, you’re right. I should have phrased more carefully given that I once had a light-hearted letter in the Economist regarding one of their accents (economist.com/node/21525341 if you’re curious). Jul 15, 2012 at 17:51
  • Based on your answer 3, I am sticking with the apostrophe approach (however I accepted your answer as it is a pretty comprehensive one, and hopefully helps someone in future). Apostrophe serves 2 purposes. When explaining how to pronounce, it is easier to distinguish the two syllables by the apostrophe. Even if ع is not pronounced accurately, pronouncing the two A's distinctly, makes it fairly close and acceptable pronunciation. Second purpose is that apostrophe is a more recognizable punctuation (across languages) than option 2, or use of ä which is not instantly recognizable in English.
    – Nasir
    Jul 17, 2012 at 4:40

Based on the previous discussion and that YouTube video, I don't think an apostrophe is required. In fact, it might lead people to believe it's a 2-syllable word, when it's really monosyllabic.

The name sounds like a homophone of the word sod. The question is, how to make that vowel sound in a name?

A double-a, though rare in English, can make that sound. If someone seems puzzled while trying to figure out how to say the name, one could offer the following hint:

It's pronounced like Saab, only with a “d”.

Though the name is bound to be mispronounced from time to time, it's not the only name that's hard to pronounce based on spelling alone, and therefore may trip up people who are unfamiliar with it. A few other examples are Sean, Joaquin, Geoff, Yves, Zoe, Imogen, Naomi, and Hermione.

It's going to be hard to come up with a spelling that can never be mispronounced; English isn't very good for that (as evidenced by heteronyms such as read, wind, does, live and buffet).

Based on the little bit of research I just conducted, Saad seems to be more common than Sa'ad in English spellings, but I'm not prepared to declare that emphatically.

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    It's worth pointing out that sod in British English is a completely different sound.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 15, 2012 at 11:50
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    thanks. I like the Saab analogy. It is a 2 syllable sound. Sa and Ad, so Sa-Ad, except d is pronounced as th is pronounced in the. I have to use the analogy of 'the' because relevant alphabet is not present in English, as it is present in Arabic, Urdu. Perhaps, I did not enunciate it distinctly in the video.
    – Nasir
    Jul 15, 2012 at 15:58

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