Nepali is written in Devanagari script. The Devanagari script is written from left to right and there are no special forms for capital letters. The writing systems that employ the Devanagari script constitute abugidas - a cross between syllabic writing systems and alphabetic writing systems. The effective unit is the orthographic syllable, consisting of a consonant and vowel (CV) core, and optionally, one or more preceding consonants.

The orthographic syllable is built up of alphabetic pieces, the actual letters of the Devanagari script. These pieces consist of three distinct character types: consonant letters, independent vowel letters, and dependent vowel signs. Consonant letters by themselves constitute a CV unit, where the V is an inherent vowel. Independent vowel letters also constitute a CV unit, where the C is considered to be null. A dependent vowel sign is used to represent a V in CV units where V is not the inherent vowel.

Nepali uses only a subset of characters, not the entire character set, of the Devanagari script.


Consonant Letters

Each of the following 33 consonant letters represents a single consonantal sound and an inherent vowel, generally the sound /a/: क /ka/, ख /kha/, ग /ga/, घ /gha/, ङ /ŋa/, च /cha/, छ /chha/, ज /ja/, झ /jha/, ञ /ña/, ट /ta/, ठ /tha/, ड /da/, ढ /dha/, ण /ṇa/, त /ṭa/, थ /ṭha/, द /ḍa/, ध /ḍha/, न /na/, प /pa/, फ /pha/, ब /ba/, भ /bha/, म /ma/, य /ya/, र /ra/, ल /la/, व /wa/, श /sa/, ष /sa/, स /sa/, ह /ha/.

Independent Vowel Letters

The following 11 independent vowel letters stand on their own: अ /a/, आ /ā/, इ /i/, ई /i/, उ /u/, ऊ /u/, ऋ /ri/, ए /e/, ऐ /ai/, ओ /o/, औ /au/.

Dependent Vowel Signs (Matras)

The following 10 dependent vowel signs serve as the common manner of writing noninherent vowels: ा /ā/, ि /i/, ी /i/, ु /u/, ू /u/, ृ /्ri/, े /e/, ै /ai/, ो /o/, ौ /au/. They do not stand alone; rather exist in combination with a consonant letter, e.g., क /ka/ + ो /o/ = को /ko/.

Hal ( ् )

Hal (represented as U+094D DEVANAGARI SIGN VIRAMA in Unicode) cancels the inherent vowel of the consonant to which it is applied. When a consonant has lost its inherent vowel by the application of a Hal, it is known as a dead constant; in contrast, a live consonant is one that retains its inherent vowel or is written with a dependent vowel sign. The word Hal refers to the character itself, and Halanta refers to the consonant that has its inherent vowel suppressed.

Consonant Conjuncts

Consonant conjuncts serve as orthographic abbreviations (ligatures) of a consonant cluster, where one or more dead consonants is followed by a live consonant, e.g.,क /ka/ + ् /hal/ + य /ya/ = क्य /kya/, where क्य /kya/ is a consonant conjunct.

Chandrabindu ( ँ ) and Shirbindu ( ं )

In addition to dependent vowel signs, two other types of combining marks, Chandrabindu ( ँ ) and Shirbindu ( ं ) may be applied to an orthographic syllable. These marks indicate nasalization of a syllable.

Chandrabindu indicates nasalization of a vowel, e.g. Chandrabindu in आँसु /aansu/ indicates nasalization of dependent vowel sign ा /ā/, and Chandrabindu in आउँ /aaun/ indicates nasalization of independent vowel letter उ /u/.

Shirbindu (represented as U+0902 DEVANAGARI SIGN ANUSVARA in Unicode) indicates a nasal consonant preceding another consonant, e.g., Shirbindu in प्रशंसा /prasamsa/ indicates nasal consonant म /ma/ preceding the consonant स /sa/, and Shirbindu in अंक /anka/ indicates nasal consonant ङ /ŋa/ preceding the consonant क /ka/.


Purna biram ( । ) marks the end of a sentence. It (represented as U+0964 DEVANAGARI DANDA in Unicode) is similar to a full stop. The period or full stop from the Latin script is not used to mark the end of a sentence in Nepali. However, except for the full stop, other punctuation marks, e.g., comma, semicolon, question mark, etc. from the Latin script are used in writing Nepali as well.


The following set of digits is used in Nepali: ० /zero/, १ /one/, २ /two/, ३ /three/, ४ /four/, ५ /five/, ६ /six/, ७ /seven/, ८ /eight/, ९ /nine/.

Bisarga ( ः )

Bisarga (represented as U+0903 DEVANAGARI SIGN VISARGA in Unicode) appears in some Sanskrit loanwords in Nepali, but they are usually not pronounced, e.g., दुःख /dukha/.

Note: The terminology used in this section follows that is used in the Unicode Standard.

The Unicode Standard, Version 7.0. Mountain View. The Unicode Consortium. 2014. Print.
Nepali Brihat Shabdakhosh. 7th ed. Kathmandu. Nepal Pragya-Pratisthan. 2010. Print.


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