The א is used as a place holder to show vowel positioning. It should not be understood as part of the vowel.
Long & Short
אֵ אֵי אֶ
When the vowel pointings were added, use was made of consonants that were already present in the text but no additional consonants were added. The vowel markings are typically written below or above the consonants.
Learn the names, the sounds, AND whether or not the vowel is long or short. It is information that will come in handy later on. (Really).
אָ kamatz long
אַ patah short
both are pronounced as the "a" in car
--- according to modern pronunciation, there is no real distinction in sound between kamatz and patah
--- the קָמָץ kamatz and פַּתַח patah are written beneath the consonant.
אֵ tsere long
אֵי tsere-yod long
אֶ segol short
--- If a yod was already present in the text to indicate a vowel, then the form will be tsere-yod
--- With or without the yod, the vowel is long. It may be pronounced as in "whey"
--- In modern hebrew there is often very little difference in sound between tsere and segol - the pronunciation for both is closer to "eh" (met) than "ey" (whey)
--- Tsere צֵרֵי and segol סֶגוֹל appear beneath the consonant. The yod, if present, follows the consonant.
אִי hiriq-yod long
אִ hiriq short
--- little distinction in pronunciation is currently made between the hiriq and the hiriq yod. Both are pronounced as "marine"
--- where tsere and tsere-yod are both long, hiriq חִירִיק is short and hiriq-yod חִירִיק יוּד is long.
--- the yod would have already been present in the consonantal text before the vowel pointings were added.
--- the hiriq is written beneath the consonant. the yod, if present, follows the consonant.
long אוּ sureq "rule"
short ֻא qubbuts "pull"
--- in spoken hebrew very little difference is made between the two vowel sounds.
--- the sureq would only have been used if there was already a vav in the consonantal text.
--- sureq follows the consonant, qubbuts is written beneath the consonant
long ֹא holom "comb"
long אוֹ holom-vav "comb"
short ָא kamatz-hatuf "cost"
--- both holom and holom-vav are long. The presence or absence of the vav depends upon whether or not the vav was already present in the consonantal text when the vowel pointings were added.
--- the kamatz and the kamatz-hatuf look identical. Remember that the kamatz is a long "ah" vowel" and the kamatz-hatuf is a short "o" vowel. We will learn ways to tell which is which. For now, remember that the kamatz occurs very frequently but the kamatz-hatuf does not.
--- the holom (and holom-vav) follows the consonant
--- the kamatz-hatuf is written beneath the consonant.
--- The sh'va is written beneath the letter. Generally speaking, it carries no sound.
It is important to remember that the sh'va is NOT a vowel. It is only a placeholder in the word.
--- A vocal sh'va can only be found at the beginning of a syllable.
--- It is referred to as "vocal" because it once was a vowel, not because it should be understood to be a vowel.
--- If pronounced, it is a very short, quick "eh"'; use the least amount of sound that you can in order to get to the next consonant.
--- It can only be found beneath a consonant that ends a syllable.
--- It is never pronounced.
--- The vocal sh'va will take on a short vowel as a partner in order to make the word easier to pronounce.
--- These compounds are sometimes referred to as half-vowels or semi-vowels.
אֲ sh'va + patah = hataf patah
אֳ sh'va + kamatz hatuf = hataf kamatz
אֱ sh'va + segol = hataf segol
Even though the sh'va is written with a (short) vowel, the resulting compound remains a sh'va. It is not a vowel.