The Alphabet -M to Z

Development of the letter m. The letter probably started as a picture sign of water, as in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing (1) and in a very early Semitic writing that was used about 1500 BCE on the Sinai Peninsula (2). About 1000 BCE, in Byblos and other Phoenician and Canaanite centers, the sign was given a linear form with a tail (3), the source of all later forms. In the Semitic languages, the sign was called mem, meaning “water.” The Greeks gave the sign a symmetrical, balanced form without the tail (4). They named it mu. The Romans took the sign without change into Latin. From Latin the capital letter M came unchanged into English.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

M, or m, is the thirteenth letter of the modern English alphabet. Its name in English is em (pronounced /ˈɛm/), plural ems.[1]

The letter M is derived from the Phoenician Mem, via the Greek Mu (Μ, μ). Semitic Mem is most likely derived from a "Proto-Sinaitic" (Bronze Age) adoption of the "water" ideogram in Egyptian writing. The Egyptian sign had the acrophonic value /n/, from the Egyptian word for "water", nt; the adoption as the Semitic letter for /m/ was presumably also on acrophonic grounds, from the Semitic word for "water", *mā(y)-.[2]

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

  • 𐤌 : Semitic letter Mem, from which the following symbols originally derive

    • Μ μ : Greek letter Mu, from which M derives

      • Ⲙ ⲙ : Coptic letter Me, which derives from Greek Mu

      • М м : Cyrillic letter Em, also derived from Mu

      • 𐌌 : Old Italic M, which derives from Greek Mu, and is the ancestor of modern Latin M

        •  : Runic letter Mannaz, which derives from old Italic M

      • 𐌼 : Gothic letter manna, which derives from Greek Mu


N, fourteenth letter of the alphabet. In all known alphabets the letter has stood in close connection with m, the particular form of one being generally reflected in the other. The Semitic form nun (originally probably meaning “fish”) and the Greek nu (Ν) are its predecessors.

N, or n, is the fourteenth letter in the modern English alphabet. Its name in English is en (pronounced /ˈɛn/), plural ens.[1]

One of the most common hieroglyphssnake, was used in Egyptian writing to stand for a sound like the English ⟨J⟩, because the Egyptian word for "snake" was djet. It is speculated by many[who?] that Semitic people working in Egypt adapted hieroglyphics to create the first alphabet, and that they used the same snake symbol to represent N, because their word for "snake" may have begun with that sound. However, the name for the letter in the PhoenicianHebrewAramaic and Arabic alphabets is nun, which means "fish" in some of these languages. The sound value of the letter was /n/—as in GreekEtruscanLatin and modern languages.

Descendants • 
 • Ƞ
 • Ŋ
 • ɧ
 • ʩSistersН

Ն ն
Մ մ

O, or o, is the fifteenth letter in the ISO basic Latin alphabet and the fourth vowel letter in the modern English alphabet. Its name in English is o (pronounced /ˈ/), plural oes.[1]

Its graphic form has remained fairly constant from Phoenician times until today. The name of the Phoenician letter was ʿeyn, meaning "eye", and indeed its shape originates simply as a drawing of a human eye (possibly inspired by the corresponding Egyptian hieroglyph, cf. Proto-Sinaitic script). Its original sound value was that of a consonant, probably [ʕ], the sound is represented by the cognate Arabic letter ع ʿayn.

The use of this Phoenician letter for a vowel sound is due to the early Greek alphabets, which adopted the letter as O "omicron" to represent the vowel /o/. The letter was adopted with this value in the Old Italic alphabets, including the early Latin alphabet. In Greek, a variation of the form later came to distinguish this long sound (Omega, meaning "large O") from the short o (Omicron, meaning "small o"). Greek omicron gave rise to the corresponding Cyrillic letter O and the early Italic letter to runic ᛟ.

Even alphabets that are not derived from Semitic tend to have similar forms to represent this sound; for example, the creators of the Afaka and Ol Chiki scripts, each invented in different parts of the world in the last century, both attributed their vowels for 'O' to the shape of the mouth when making this sound.[original research?]

Development of the letter o. The letter probably started as a picture sign of an eye, as in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing (1) and in a very early Semitic writing which was used about 1500 bce on the Sinai Peninsula (2). About 1000 bce, in Byblos and other Phoenician and Canaanite centres, the sign was given a circular form (3), the source of all later forms. In the Semitic languages the sign was called ʿayin, meaning “eye.” It had a pharyngeal sound, which is not found in the English language. The Greeks took over the form of the ʿayin sign (4). They had no use for the sound in their language, so they used it for the vowel o. They changed the name to omicron, meaning “short o,” as distinguished from the sign omega (5), meaning “long o,” which they introduced into their writing and placed at the end of their alphabet. The Romans made the form oval, which has come unchanged into English. The small o is distinguished from the capital O only by size (6).

P, sixteenth letter of the alphabet. Throughout its known history it has represented the unvoiced labial stop. It corresponds to the Semitic pe, perhaps deriving from an earlier sign for "mouth." The Greeks renamed this form pi (Π).

In English orthography and most other European languages, ⟨p⟩ represents the sound /p/.

A common digraph in English is ⟨ph⟩, which represents the sound /f/, and can be used to transliterate ⟨φ⟩ phi in loanwords from Greek. In German, the digraph ⟨pf⟩ is common, representing a labial affricate /pf/.

Most English words beginning with ⟨p⟩ are of foreign origin, primarily French, Latin, Greek, and Slavic;[citation needed] these languages preserve Proto-Indo-European initial *p. Native English cognates of such words often start with ⟨f⟩, since English is a Germanic language and thus has undergone Grimm's law; a native English word with initial /p/ would reflect Proto-Indo-European initial *b, which is so rare that its existence as a phoneme is disputed.

However, native English words with non-initial ⟨p⟩ are quite common; such words can come from either Kluge's law or the consonant cluster /sp/ (PIE *p has been preserved after s).

                  • Ancestors, Descendants and Siblings
                  • The Latin letter P represents the same sound as the Greek letter Pi, but it looks like the Greek letter Rho.

Q q, seventeenth letter of the modern alphabet. It corresponds to Semitic koph, which may derive from an earlier sign representing the eye of a needle, and to Greek koppa. The form of the majuscule has been practically identical throughout its known history.

The letter q is of uncertain origin. There is a sign in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing that denotes a looped rope (1). Another sign in the shape of a doubled loop is found in a very early Semitic writing used about 1500 bce on the Sinai Peninsula (2). Both of these early signs have been compared by some scholars to the q sign that was developed about 1000 bce in Byblos and other Phoenician and Canaanite centres (3). It is from the latter sign, called qoph in the Semitic languages, that all later forms are derived. The Greeks renamed the sign koppa (4). It stood for exactly the same sound as kappa (Κ), so they dropped koppa as useless. The Romans, however, had acquired the early Greek habit of using koppa for a k sound before u and gave the sign a round form with a curved tail (5). In this form the letter Q came from Latin into English. The English small handwritten q has the tail developed into a long vertical line (6).

The Etruscans used Q in conjunction with V to represent /kʷ/, and this usage was copied by the Romans with the rest of their alphabet. In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters C, K and Q were all used to represent the two sounds /k/ and /ɡ/, which were not differentiated in writing. Of these, Q was used before a rounded vowel (e.g. ⟨EQO⟩ 'ego'), K before /a/ (e.g. ⟨KALENDIS⟩ 'calendis'), and C elsewhere.] Later, the use of C (and its variant G) replaced most usages of K and Q: Q survived only to represent /k/ when immediately followed by a /w/ sound.

lowercase q

A comparison of the glyphs of ⟨q⟩ and ⟨g⟩

The lowercase "q" is usually seen as a lowercase "o" or "c" with a descender (i.e., downward vertical tail) extending from the right side of the bowl, with or without a swash (i.e., flourish), or even a reversed lowercase p. The "q"'s descender is usually typed without a swash due to the major style difference typically seen between the descenders of the "g" (a loop) and "q" (vertical). When handwritten, or as part of a handwriting font, the descender of the "q" sometimes finishes with a rightward swash to distinguish it from the letter "g" (or, particularly in mathematics, the digit "9").

Quite Quirky

One out of every 510 letters in English words is a Q, making it the least common letter in the English alphabet, according to an Oxford English Dictionary analysis. It is also the only letter not used in any U.S. state name

 It wasn't until 520 BC that Roman inscriptions bore a Q comparable to that in modern use. It was also then that the “u always after q” rule was instituted.

The letter R probably started as a picture sign of a human head, as in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing (1) and in a very early Semitic writing used in about 1500 bc on the Sinai Peninsula (2). In about 1000 bc, in Byblos and other Phoenician and Canaanite centers, the sign was given a linear form (3), the source of all later forms. In the Semitic languages the sign was called resh, meaning “head.” The Greeks renamed the Semitic sign rho. They also turned the sign around to suit the left-to-right direction of their writing, changing its form slightly (4) and sometimes adding a slight tail (5). The Romans took the latter form, emphasizing the tail (6) to make a sharper distinction between R and their sign P. The Roman form of the capital letter R came unchanged into English.

The handwritten small r (7) started in medieval times when the curved stroke was made to the right to connect it to the next letter. R is also simplified into another handwritten form (8).

R, or r, is the eighteenth letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its name in English is ar (pronounced /ˈɑːr/), plural ars,[1] or in Ireland or /ˈɔːr/.[2]

The letter ⟨r⟩ is the eighth most common letter in English and the fourth-most common consonant (after ⟨t⟩, ⟨n⟩, and ⟨s⟩).[3]

The letter ⟨r⟩ is used to form the ending "-re", which is used in certain words such as centre in some varieties of English spelling, such as British EnglishCanadian English also uses the "-re" ending, unlike American English, where the ending is usually replaced by "-er" (center). This does not affect pronunciation.


Calligraphic variants in the Latin alphabet[edit]

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets[edit]

  • 𐤓 : Semitic letter Resh, from which the following letters derive

What's This? Now We Have To Mind Our P's And R's As Well As Our P's And Q's...!

This is something up to which we all must stand! To the barracades, good linguists - the battle is joined!

(So the good folks at} posted a blog entry about why the letters “P” and “R” don’t originally come from the same letter, as you might expect because they’re visually so similar. The author briefly explains the origins of each letter and how the two letters came into the alphabet. It’s a short read, so check it out:

Do P and R come from the same letter?

On the one hand, it’s definitely interesting that these two letters don’t bear a common ancestry, and it’s fun to see how/why they’re different. On the other hand, the way they explain the orthography behind the letter “R” doesn’t seem correct to me. I think they have the basic facts correct, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to the story, and I think they’re probably just wrong on at least one point. Here’s how the article explains it:

The letter R came from the Phoenician letter rosh (see image at left). The word rosh meant head and the letter resembles a neck and head. It also looks like a backwards P. When the letter entered the Greek alphabet, the Greeks turned the letter around and added the short leg to the side. They called this letter rho.

Hold on now… have you seen the Greek letter rho? There’s no leg to the side. It’s just the mirror image of the Phoenician letter rosh. The article makes a passing reference to the Romans, and I have heard that the Romans added the leg, turning it into the modern letter “R” that we use today. The article claims they used the Etruscan letter for P and created the letter R out of it, though, which seems a little odd to me. The Etruscan alphabet is derived directly from the Greek alphabet, and the letter for P looks more like a backward lowercase r. It certainly isn’t something you can simply add a leg to and create our modern R. You could, however, take the Etruscan letter R, flip it around, and add the leg, but… that’s not exactly how it happened. In fact, the Etruscans began adding a little mini-leg to their letter to differentiate it from a later form of the letter P they were using, and eventually it got flipped around and started to look like the letter we use today. Minor details, I know, but I like to get the story right.

I realize I’m rambling a little, but I’ll get to my point. Of course it’s probable that the Romans wanted a letter to represent the R sound that was visually distinct from the letter P. What’s fascinating to me is that — apparently by coincidence — they managed to create the runic letter raidō for use in their Latin alphabet without any interaction with the Germanic tribes to the north who had already created this rune that both expressed the “R” sound and looked exactly like our modern letter R. Crazy, isn’t it?

Take a look at the runic letter raidō pictured to the right. It represents the R sound in all of the Germanic runic alphabets in use throughout the first millennium and beyond, and it was often written with the lines connected in the middle, exactly how we write the letter R today. It has the same sound as our modern R, and it was a common letter that didn’t change with the modifications to the runic alphabets during the expansions of the North Germanic, East Germanic, and West Germanic dialect groups. Each incorporated some changes to their runic alphabets as their languages changed, but the letter R remained the same for all of them.

Is it just a coincidence that the letter R created by the Romans and the runic letter raidō created by the Germanic peoples ended up being exactly the same? It’s difficult to say with any certainty whether there was a borrowing of ideas back and forth between these groups. Their alphabets do stem from a common source in antiquity, so maybe these modifications over time toward the same end result aren’t so unlikely. Either way,’s blog entry got me thinking, and this is where my thought process ended up. It’s fascinating stuff to consider!

(Note - the above article was written by Benjamin Eavey and can be found at The blog entry to which he refers is on that site's hot word blog, should you care to further annoy yourself as to whether or not P and R were once conjoined until the Romans wisely disjoined them for the sake of clarity, or these consonants were ere hove in twain and never had a relationship whatsoever, save their similar orthography and position in the Alphabet. 

Frankly, Brianetics found the history of the tittle above and j far more compelling. Plus it's just fun to say -- tittle. Veritably impossible to keep from tittering upon hearing tittle. 

And that's all there is to that.

The letter S may have started as a picture sign of a sandy hill country, as in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing (1), or of a “tooth” (peak) of a rock, such as is found in a very early Semitic writing which was used in about 1500 bc on the Sinai Peninsula (2). In about 1000 bc, in Byblos and other Phoenician and Canaanite centers, the sign was given a linear form (3), from which all later…

The letter ⟨s⟩ is the seventh most common letter in English and the third-most common consonant after ⟨t⟩ and ⟨n⟩.[8] It is the most common letter for the first letter of a word in the English language.[9][10]

In English and several other languages, primarily Western Romance ones like Spanish and French, final ⟨s⟩ is the usual mark of plural nouns. It is the regular ending of English third person present tense verbs.

⟨s⟩ represents the voiceless alveolar or voiceless dental sibilant /s/ in most languages as well as in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It also commonly represents the voiced alveolar or voiced dental sibilant /z/, as in Portuguese mesa (table) or English 'rose' and 'bands', or it may represent the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative [ʃ], as in most Portuguese dialects when syllable-finally, in Hungarian, in German (before ⟨p⟩, ⟨t⟩) and some English words as 'sugar', since yod-coalescence became a dominant feature, and [ʒ], as in English 'measure' (also because of yod-coalescence), European Portuguese Islão (Islam) or, in many sociolects of Brazilian Portuguese, esdrúxulo (proparoxytone) in some Andalusian dialects, it merged with Peninsular Spanish ⟨c⟩ and ⟨z⟩ and is now pronounced [θ]. In some English words of French origin, the letter ⟨s⟩ is silent, as in 'isle' or 'debris'. In Turkmen, ⟨s⟩ represents [θ].

The ⟨sh⟩ digraph for English /ʃ/ arises in Middle English (alongside ⟨sch⟩), replacing the Old English ⟨sc⟩ digraph. Similarly, Old High German ⟨sc⟩ was replaced by ⟨sch⟩ in Early Modern High German orthography.


Northwest Semitic šîn represented a voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ (as in 'ship'). It originated most likely as a pictogram of a tooth (שנא) and represented the phoneme /ʃ/ via the acrophonic principle.[3]

Ancient Greek did not have a /ʃ/ phoneme, so the derived Greek letter sigma (Σ) came to represent the voiceless alveolar sibilant /s/. While the letter shape Σ continues Phoenician šîn, its name sigma is taken from the letter samekh, while the shape and position of samekh but name of šîn is continued in the xi.[citation needed] Within Greek, the name of sigma was influenced by its association with the Greek word σίζω (earlier *sigj-) "to hiss". The original name of the letter "sigma" may have been san, but due to the complicated early history of the Greek epichoric alphabets, "san" came to be identified as a separate letter, Ϻ.[4] Herodotus reports that "San" was the name given by the Dorians to the same letter called "Sigma" by the Ionians.[5]

The Western Greek alphabet used in Cumae was adopted by the Etruscans and Latins in the 7th century BC, over the following centuries developing into a range of Old Italic alphabets including the Etruscan alphabet and the early Latin alphabet. In Etruscan, the value /s/ of Greek sigma (𐌔) was maintained, while san (𐌑) represented a separate phoneme, most likely /ʃ/ (transliterated as ś). The early Latin alphabet adopted sigma, but not san, as Old Latin did not have a /ʃ/ phoneme.

The shape of Latin S arises from Greek Σ by dropping one out of the four strokes of that letter. The (angular) S-shape composed of three strokes existed as a variant of the four-stroke letter Σ already in the epigraphy in Western Greek alphabets, and the three and four strokes variants existed alongside one another in the classical Etruscan alphabet. In other Italic alphabets (Venetic, Lepontic), the letter could be represented as a zig-zagging line of any number between three and six strokes.

The Italic letter was also adopted into Elder Futhark, as Sowilō (), and appears with four to eight strokes in the earliest runic inscriptions, but is occasionally reduced to three strokes () from the later 5th century, and appears regularly with three strokes in Younger Futhark.

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

  • 𐤔 : Semitic letter Shin, from which the following symbols originally derive
    • archaic Greek Sigma could be written with different numbers of angles and strokes. Besides the classical form with four strokes (), a three-stroke form resembling an angular Latin S () was commonly found, and was particularly characteristic of some mainland Greek varieties including Attic and several "red" alphabets.
  • Ս : Armenian letter Se

T, t [Called ‘tee’]. The 20th LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It originated as the Phoenician symbol taw, which the Greeks adopted and adapted as tau (τ), which was in turn adopted by the Etruscans and then the Romans as T.

Palatalized T

(1) When t is palatalized before u, it represents the affricate otherwise spelt ch as in church: before -ure (capture, culture, fracture, legislature, picture, temperature), before -ual (actual, intellectual, perpetual), and in some other environments (century, fortune, statue, virtue). Compare palatalized d, s, z in verdure, closure, seizure. (2) This affricate value also occurs before i in the ending -stion (question, digestion, combustion) and in Christian, and before e in righteous. However, in precise, conservative speech, the value of t in such words may be /t/ followed by a y-sound rather than /tʃ/. (3) Elsewhere, when followed by unstressed i and another vowel, t is commonly palatalized to produce the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative sh- sound. This value of ti is found in such words as inertia, patient, ratio, nasturtium, and the proper names Domitian, Horatio, Titian, but particularly in the endings -tial (palatial, essential, initial, partial, potential, presidential, substantial), -tious (conscientious, superstitious, vexatious), and the hundreds of -tion words (association, completion, discretion, ignition, motion, solution). Some of these also have a preceding consonant: action, infarction, mention, adoption. In words ending in -tiate, etc., the i usually remains syllabic: negotiate, substantiate. (4) Uniquely, equation may be heard with zh, rhyming with invasion. Occasionally, some of these words are pronounced carefully with non-palatalized t heard as /s/: inertia, negotiate.

Double T

(1) Syllables containing a stressed short vowel double a final t before a suffix that begins with a vowel: mat/matted/matting, bet/betting, fit/fitted/fitter/fittest, rot/rotted/rotting, cut/cutting/cutter, regret/regretted/regretting (contrast wait/waited/waiting, visit/visited/visiting). Format commonly has formatted/formatting, while benefit is found with benefited/benefiting and, less commonly, benefitted/benefitting. (2) Disyllables commonly have medial tt following a stressed short vowel: batter, better, bitten, bottle, butter. (3) T is doubled when the Latin prefix ad- is assimilated to a stem beginning with t: attain, attend, attract. (4) Some cognate words vary in their doubling: Britain/Brittany, catty/caterwaul, letter/literate, matter/material. (5) Few words other than proper names end in tt: watt originated in the proper name Watt; matt, nett are alternatives for mat (not shiny), net (not gross); mitt is a clipped form of mitten; putt originated as a Scottish variant of put; butt (noun) may have retained double t so as to be distinguished from but.

Inflectional T

(1) Regular verbs form their past tense with -(e)d, but many irregular verbs use t: deal/dealt, feel/felt. (2) Some have alternative forms, especially in BrE (burnt/burned, learnt/learned, spoilt/spoiled), the t-versions often being favoured as adjectival forms (burnt papers, badly learnt lines, spoilt food). (3) Some reduce a doubled consonant before t: smelt/smelled, spelt/spelled, spilt/spilled, and formerly also past/passed. (4) Some shorten their stem vowel (but not its spelling) before t: dreamt/dreamed, leant/leaned, leapt/leaped. (5) Many shorten sound and spelling before t: cleave/cleft, creep/crept, feel/felt, keep/kept, kneel/knelt, leave/left, lose/lost, shoot/shot, sleep/slept, sweep/swept, weep/wept. (6) Some substitute -t for final -d in their root: bend/bent, build/built, gild/gilt (also gilded), gird/girt (also girded), lend/lent, rend/rent, send/sent, spend/spent. (7) Some make more substantial changes to the vowel and/or final consonant of the stem in adding -aught or -ought: beseech/besought, bring/brought, buy/bought, catch/caught, seek/sought, teach/taught, think/thought. (8) Some have stems with final -t which is preserved without inflection in all tenses: burst, cast, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, quit, set, shut, slit, split, thrust. (9) Some change their stem-vowel, but not final t: fight/fought, light/lit, meet/met.

Epenthetic T

(1) The letter t and sound /t/ have sometimes intruded in words originally without them: peasant, tapestry (from French paysan, tapisserie). (2) In against, amidst, amongst, betwixt, whilst, t has arisen parasitically, perhaps by analogy with the superlative inflection of adjectives.

Silent T

(1) In word- and syllable-final position in loans from French, both early and recent: ballet, beret, bouquet, buffet, cabaret, chalet, crochet, croquet, depot, mortgage, parquet, potpourri, trait, valet. (2) Elided after s following a stressed vowel: before /l/, especially in the terminal syllable -le, in castle, nestle, pestle, trestle, wrestle, bristle, epistle, gristle, mistletoe, thistle, whistle, apostle, jostle, throstle, bustle, hustle, rustle; before /n/, especially the terminal element -en, in chasten, hasten, fasten, christen, glisten, listen, moisten; and in isolated words such as Christmas, postman, waistcoat. (3) Elided after f in soften and often in often. (4) In boatswain, the elision is reflected in such alternative spellings as bo 's'n, bosun. (5) The historical function of t before ch, typically after short vowels as in match, fetch, pitch, botch, hutch, is the equivalent of doubling a simple letter, but is in present-day English redundant. The redundancy is particularly apparent in ditch/rich, hutch/much.


This digraph is regularly used to represent a common, characteristically English phoneme, the dental fricative, both voiced /ð/ as in this and voiceless /θ/ as in thin. Sometimes related forms vary: voiceless smith, but voiced smithy. In OLD ENGLISH, the sounds were represented interchangeably by the runic letter THORN (þ) and ETH (ð), a modification of the letter d. A relic of thorn occurs in the form Ye for the in ‘old’ inn and shop signs, such as Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe, the y being a corruption of handwritten þ. English borrowed the digraph th from LATIN, where it served to transliterate GREEK theta (θ); th superseded other symbols for the dental fricative following the advent of printing. In MODERN ENGLISH th occurs in common words of Old English origin and in many, usually technical, words of Greek origin. The h is ignored in the pronunciation of a small number of words: thyme, Thomas, in BrE but not necessarily in AmE in Thames (for example, the Thames River in Connecticut has a spelling pronunciation), and usually in Anthony, Esther. Th may be silent in asthma, isthmus, clothes. Th in north, south is commonly omitted in nautical language: nor' nor' east, sou'wester. The form good-bye also arose from the omission of th, being a clipping of God be with ye.

Voiced TH

(1) Initially in many grammatical words: than, that, the, thee, their, them, then, thence, there, these, they, thine, this, thou, though, thus, thy, but contrast through, in which the following r may have prevented the voicing of the th. (2) Medially: bother, brother, father, further, gather, hither, leather, mother, northern, rather, smithy, southern, weather, wether, whether, whither, wither, withy, worthy, but contrast brothel and the derived forms healthy, wealthy. (3) Some nouns voice final th in the plural (baths, mouths, truths, youths) but not in the corresponding inflected BrE verb baths. (4) A following final e indicates a voiced th, a long preceding vowel, and usually a verb form (contrast breath/breathe): bathe, clothe, lathe, lithe, loathe, seethe, sheathe, soothe, swathe, teethe, wreathe, writhe, but to mouth, to smooth lack final e.

Voiceless TH

(1) Initially, in lexical words: thank, thatch, theft. (2) Finally, in both lexical and grammatical words: bath, birth, both, but contrast voiced smooth, and booth with either pronunciation. Th is voiced in the derivatives mouths, northerly, southerly. The word with is variable. (3) In Greek-derived words: antithesis, epithalamium, hyacinth, pathos, theatre/theater, theme, theory, Theseus, but not in rhythm.

Morphological TH

The ending -th was formerly a present-tense verb inflection (for example, maketh for Modern English makes), and occurs as the ordinal ending for numerals (fourth, fifth, twentieth, hundredth, thousandth, but with written assimilation of preceding t in eighth, from eight). It creates abstract nouns from several common adjectives often suggesting measurement: breadth, depth, length, strength, warmth, width (but only t after gh in drought, height, sight).

Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language TOM McARTHUR


T1 / tē/ (also t) • n. (pl. Ts or T's)

1. the twentieth letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the next after S in a set of items, categories, etc.

2. (T) (also tee) a shape like that of a capital T: [in comb.] make a T-shaped wound in the rootstock and insert the cut bud. See also T-square, etc.PHRASES: cross the T hist. (of a naval force) cross in front of an enemy force approximately at right angles, securing a tactical advantage for a T inf. exactly; to perfection: I baked it to a T, and of course it was delicious.T2 • abbr. ∎  [in comb.] (in units of measurement) tera- (1012): 12 Tbytes of data storage. ∎  tesla. ∎  Brit. (in names of sports clubs) Town: Mansfield T.• symb. ∎  temperature. ∎  Chem. the hydrogen isotope tritium.

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English

t (ital.) symbol for Celsius temperature
• Astronomy, symbol for hour angle
• (ital.) Statistics, symbol for Student's t distribution
• Music te (in tonic sol-fa)
• (ital.) Chem. tertiary (isomer; as in t-butane)
• symbol for tonne(s)
• Physics top (a quark flavour)
• (ital.) Chem., symbol for transport number


U, or u, is the twenty-first and sixth-to-last letter of the ISO basic Latin alphabet and the fifth vowel letter of the modern English alphabet. Its name in English is u (pronounced /ˈj/), plural ues.[1][2]


The letter u ultimately comes from the Phoenician letter waw by way of the letter y. See the letter y for details.

During the late Middle Ages, two forms of 'v' developed, which were both used for its ancestor 'u' and modern 'v'. The pointed form 'v' was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form 'u' was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas 'through' and 'excuse' appeared as in modern printing, 'have' and 'upon' were printed 'haue' and 'vpon', respectively. The first recorded use of 'u' and 'v' as distinct letters is in a Gothic alphabet from 1386, where 'v' preceded 'u'. Before the 1500s, u and v were used interchangeably as a vowel or a consonant. A French educational reformer helped change that in 1557 when he started using u exclusively as a vowel and v as the consonant. Printers eschewed capital 'U' into the 17th century and the distinction between the two letters was not fully accepted by the French Academy until 1762.[3]

There was no letter U in the alphabet. Well, that’s not the entire story. There was the sound for the letter we call U, but it didn’t look like U. It looked like V. The Classical Latin alphabet had only 23 letters, not the 26 that we have today. This is why the W looks like a double V but is pronounced like a double U

For a very long time, U and V were allographs (a variation of a letter in another context. Uppercase and lowercase letters are allographs.) Before the use of the letter U, the shape V stood for both the vowel U and the consonant V.

The letters begin to look different in the Gothic alphabet in 1386; however the use of the u was not widespread. When scribes did use a u, it was in the middle of words. It wasn’t until printing standardized letter shapes in the 1600s that the letter U became regularly used. First, in the 1500s, Italian printers started distinguishing between the vowel U and the consonant V. However, the V continued to be used for the U sound at the beginning of words. In 1629, the capital U became an accepted letter when Lazare Zetzner, a printer, started using it in his print shop.

Ancestors, descendants and siblings

  • 𐤅: Semitic letter Waw, from which the following symbols originally derive
    • Υ υ : Greek letter Upsilon, from which U derives
      • V v : Latin letter V, from which U is directly descended
        • W w : Latin letter W, which, like U, is descended from V
      • Y y : Latin letter Y, also descended from Upsilon
      • У у : Cyrillic letter U, which also derives from Upsilon
      • Ү ү : Cyrillic letter Ue
    • Ϝ ϝ : Greek letter Digamma
      • F f : Latin letter F, derived from Digamma

V, or v, is the twenty-second and fifth-to-last letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its name in English is vee (pronounced /ˈv/), plural vees.[1]


Late Renaissance or early Baroque design of a V, from 162
Ancient Corinthian vase depicting Perseus, Andromeda and Ketos. The inscriptions denoting the depicted persons are written in an archaic form of the Greek alphabet. Perseus (Greek: ΠΕΡϺΕΥϺ) is inscribed as ϺVΕϺΡΕΠ (from right to left), using V to represent the vowel [u]. San ("Ϻ") is used instead of Sigma ("Σ").

The letter V comes from the Semitic letter Waw, as do the modern letters F, U, W, and Y.[2] See F for details.

In Greek, the letter upsilon "Υ" was adapted from waw to represent, at first, the vowel [u]. This was later fronted to [y], the front rounded vowel.

In Latin, a stemless variant shape of the upsilon was borrowed in early times as V — either directly from the Western Greek alphabet or from the Etruscan alphabet as an intermediary — to represent the same /u/ sound, as well as the consonantal /w/, num — originally spelled NVM — was pronounced /num/ and via was pronounced [ˈwia]. From the 1st century AD on, depending on Vulgar Latin dialect, consonantal /w/ developed into /β/ (kept in Spanish), then later to /v/.

During the Late Middle Ages, two minuscule glyphs developed which were both used for sounds including /u/ and modern /v/. The pointed form "v" was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form "u" was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas "valour" and "excuse" appeared as in modern printing, "have" and "upon" were printed as "haue" and "vpon". The first distinction between the letters "u" and "v" is recorded in a Gothic script from 1386, where "v" preceded "u". By the mid-16th century, the "v" form was used to represent the consonant and "u" the vowel sound, giving us the modern letter "u". Capital and majuscule "U" was not accepted as a distinct letter until many years later.[3]


In English, special rules of orthography normally apply to the letter V:

  • Traditionally, V is not doubled to indicate a short vowel, the way, for example, P is doubled to indicate the difference between "super" and "supper". However, that is changing with newly coined words, such as savvy, "divvy up" and "skivvies".
  • Barring the word of, a word that ends in a v sound is spelled ve regardless of the sound of the vowel before it (grave, wove, hive). This rule does not apply to transliterations of Slavic and Hebrew words, such as Kiev, or to words that started out as abbreviations, such as sov for sovereign.
  • The short u sound is spelled o, not u, before the letter v. This originated with a mediaeval scribal practice designed to increase legibility by avoiding too many vertical strokes (minims) in a row.
  • Like J, K, Q, X, and Z, V is not used very frequently in English. It is the sixth least frequently used letter in the English language, with a frequency of about 1.03% in words
  • V is the only letter in the English language that is never silent, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Think about it: Even unusual letters like Z and J are silent in words we have borrowed from foreign languages, such as marijuana (originally a Spanish word) and laissez-faire (French).
  • V does not normally occur syllable-initially before other consonants, vroom representing a conspicuous break with customary spelling patterns.



W, or w, is the twenty-third and fourth-to-last letter of the modern English and ISO basic Latin alphabets. It usually represents a consonant, but in some languages it represents a vowel. Its name in English is double-u,[note 1] plural double-ues.[1][2]

The 23rd LETTER of the modern Roman ALPHABET as used for English. The Romans had no letter suitable for representing the phoneme /w/, as in OLD ENGLISH, although phonetically the vowel represented by v (as in veni, vidi, vici) was close. In the 7c, scribes wrote uu for /w/, but from the 8c they commonly preferred for English the runic symbol wynn (ƿ). Meanwhile, uu was adopted for /w/ in continental Europe, and after the Norman Conquest in 1066 it was introduced to English as the ligatured w, which by 1300 had replaced wynn. Early printers sometimes used vv for lack of a w in their type. The name double-u for double v (French double-v) recalls the former identity of u and v. . Because the Latin alphabet did not have a letter to represent the sound /w/ in Old English, 7th-century scribes just wrote it as ‘uu.’ The double-u symbol eventually meshed together to form the letter W.

The printing press came to English in 1476, and it used a single double-U block, helping cement W as its own letter by the early 1500s. As the printing press evolved, so did the shape of the letters.

But then a double-V shape came into favor (in part because of ancient Roman inscriptions), yielding VV for W, and over time, those VV‘s became written as a one, continuous shape.

The humble W is the only letter of the alphabet with a three-syllable name. It is also the only letter whose name derives from another letter - and the wrong letter at that! The complications of W are twofold because of its name, double-u, and its shape, double V. It is also one of three letters (H, W, and Y) with a name that does not indicate its phonetic use.



X, or x, is the twenty-fourth and third-to-last letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its name in English is "ex" (pronounced /ˈɛks/), plural exes.[2]

In Ancient Greek, 'Χ' and 'Ψ' were among several variants of the same letter, used originally for /kʰ/ and later, in western areas such as Arcadia, as a simplification of the digraph 'ΧΣ' for /ks/. In the end, more conservative eastern forms became the standard of Classical Greek, and thus 'Χ' (Chi) stood for /kʰ/ (later /x/; palatalized to [ç] in Modern Greek before front vowels). However, the Etruscans had taken over 'Χ' from western Greek, and it therefore stands for /ks/ in Etruscan and Latin.

The letter 'Χ' ~ 'Ψ' for /kʰ/ was a Greek addition to the alphabet, placed after the Semitic letters along with phi 'Φ' for /pʰ/.

In English orthography, ⟨x⟩ is typically pronounced as the voiceless consonant cluster /ks/ when it follows the stressed vowel (e.g. ox), and the voiced consonant /ɡz/ when it precedes the stressed vowel (e.g. exam). It is also pronounced /ɡz/ when it precedes a silent ⟨h⟩ and a stressed vowel (e.g. exhaust).[3] Before ⟨a⟩, {angbr|i}} or ⟨u⟩, it can be pronounced /kʃ/ or /ɡʒ/ (e.g. sexual and luxury); these result from earlier /ksj/ and /ɡzj/. It also makes the sound /kʃ/ in words ending in -xion. When ⟨x⟩ ends a word, it is always /ks/ (e.g. fax), except in loan words such as faux (see French, below).

When starting in some names or as its own representation it is pronounced 'eks', in rare recent loanwords or foreign proper names, it can also be pronounced /s/ (e.g. the obsolete Vietnamese monetary unit xu) or /ʃ/ (e.g. Chinese names starting with Xi like Xiaomi or Xinjiang). Many of the words that start with ⟨x⟩ are of Greek origin, or standardized trademarks (Xerox) or acronyms (XC). In abbreviations, it can represent "trans-" (e.g. XMIT for transmit, XFER for transfer), "cross-" (e.g. X-ing for crossing, XREF for cross-reference), "Christ-" (e.g. Xmas for Christmas, Xian for Christian), the "crys-" in crystal (XTAL), or various words starting with "ex-" (e.g. XL for extra large, XOR for exclusive-or).

 “X marks the spot”, “solve for x", "the x-factor", "Mr. X" and many other eXpressions utilize the letter X in the same way. It is, in fact, universally known for being "unknown". Or representing something yet to be known. This use of X is believed to have originated with mathematician René Descartes, who used the last three letters of the alphabet to represent unknown quantities in his book The Geometry. He chose a, b, and c to stand for known quantities.

There are very few English words that start with ⟨x⟩ (the fewest of any letter). When ⟨x⟩ does start a word, it is usually pronounced 'z' (e.g. xylophone, xenophobia, and xanthan).

X is the third least frequently used letter in English (after ⟨q⟩ and ⟨z⟩), with a frequency of about 0.15% in words.[4]

Y, or y, is the twenty-fifth and penultimate letter of the ISO basic Latin alphabet and the sixth (or seventh if including W) vowel letter[1] of the modern English alphabet. In the English writing system, it mostly represents a vowel and seldom a consonant, and in other orthographies it may represent a vowel or a consonant. Its name in English is wye[2] (pronounced /ˈw/), plural wyes.[3

 It originated as one of two letters derived by the Greeks from the Phoenician consonant symbol waw. The GREEK letter upsilon (γ, lower case υ) had a value like u, which LATIN wrote as V. Only later did the Romans adopt the form Y as a separate letter specifically to transliterate Greek upsilon, adding it to the end of the alphabet (z being a later addition still). Many European languages indicate the Greek origin in their name for y: FRENCH i-grec, SPANISH i-griega (Greek i), GERMAN Ypsilon. The French and Spanish names imply that the letter is an alternative for i.

 And if you are wondering about that "sometimes y" caveat at the end of your grammar school vowels mantra, here is what Neal Whitman writing for Grammar Girl said:

If a syllable begins with Y or W, and the next letter represents a vowel, then Y or W almost certainly represents a consonant. In “yo” and “woe,” for example, Y and W represent consonants.

If a syllable begins with Y and the next letter represents a consonant, then the Y represents a vowel. The only examples I can think of are the elements yttrium and ytterbium, and the French name Yves [pronounced “eve”]. I see in the dictionary that there are few more borrowed or archaic words with Y representing a vowel at the beginning of a word, but they’re not worth mentioning here. And there are no syllables beginning with W in which W represents a vowel.

Z, or z, is the twenty-sixth and final letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its usual names in English are zed (pronounced /ˈzɛd/) and zee /ˈz/, with an occasional archaic variant izzard /ˈɪzərd/.

The letter z was part of the earliest form of the Latin alphabet, adopted from Etruscan. Because the sound /z/ in Latin changed to /r/ by rhotacism in the fifth century BC, z was dropped and its place given to the new letter g. In the 1st century BC, z was reintroduced at the end of the Latin alphabet to represent the sound of the Greek zeta /dz/, as the letter y was introduced to represent the sound of the Greek upsilon /y/.[5]

Before the reintroduction of z, the sound of zeta was written s at the beginning of words and ss in the middle of words, as in sōna for ζώνη "belt" and trapessita for τραπεζίτης "banker".

In some inscriptions, z represented a Vulgar Latin sound, likely an affricate, formed by the merging of the reflexes of Classical Latin /j/, /dj/ and /gj/:[example needed] for example, zanuariu for ianuariu "January", ziaconus for diaconus "deacon", and oze for hodie "today".[6] Likewise, /di/ sometimes replaced /z/ in words like baptidiare for baptizare "to baptize". In modern Italian, z represents /ts/ or /dz/, whereas the reflexes of ianuarius and hodie are written with the letter g (representing /dʒ/ when before i and e): gennaio, oggi. In other languages, such as Spanish, further evolution of the sound occurred.

Old English used S alone for both the unvoiced and the voiced sibilant. The Latin sound imported through French was new and was not written with Z but with G or I. The successive changes can be seen in the doublet forms jealous and zealous. Both of these come from a late Latin zelosus, derived from the imported Greek ζῆλος zêlos. The earlier form is jealous; its initial sound is the [], which developed to Modern French [ʒ]. John Wycliffe wrote the word as gelows or ielous.

Z at the end of a word was pronounced ts, as in English assets, from Old French asez "enough" (Modern French assez), from Vulgar Latin ad satis ("to sufficiency").[7]

Last letter of the alphabet

In earlier times, the English alphabets used by children terminated not with Z but with & or related typographic symbols.[8] In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to Z being followed by & when her character Jacob Storey says, "He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th' alphabet like; though ampusand would ha' done as well, for what he could see."[9]

Some Latin based alphabets have extra letters on the end of the alphabet. The last letter for the Icelandic, Finnish and Swedish alphabets is Ö, while it is Å for Danish and Norwegian. In the German alphabet, the umlauts (Ä/ä, Ö/ö, and Ü/ü) and the letter ß (Eszett or scharfes S) are regarded respectively as modifications of the vowels a/o/u and as a (standardized) variant spelling of ss, not as independent letters, so they come after the unmodified letters in the alphabetical order. The German alphabet ends with z.

Variant and derived forms

A glyph variant of Z originating in the medieval Gothic minuscules and the Early Modern Blackletter typefaces is the "tailed z" (German geschwänztes Z, also Z mit Unterschlinge). In some Antiqua typefaces, this letter is present as a standalone letter or in ligatures. Ligated with long s (ſ), it is part of the origin of the Eszett (ß) in the German alphabet. The character ezh (Ʒ) resembles a tailed z, as does the yogh (ȝ), with which it came to be indistinguishable in Middle English writing.

Unicode assigns codepoints U+2128 ℨ BLACK-LETTER CAPITAL Z (HTML ℨ · ℨ, ℨ) and U+1D537 𝔷 MATHEMATICAL FRAKTUR SMALL Z (HTML 𝔷 · 𝔷) in the Letterlike Symbols and Mathematical alphanumeric symbols ranges respectively.


    lowercase cursivez


    z in a sans serif typeface

There is also a variant with a stroke.

Pronunciation and use

Pronunciations of Zz Language Dialect(s) Pronunciation (IPA) Environment Notes Basque // Catalan Standard /z/ Some Valencian dialects /s/ Finnish /ts/ Only used in loanwords German Standard /ts/ Inari Sami /dz/ Indonesian /z/ Italian Standard /dz/ /ts/ Japanese Standard /dz/ Before /ɯ/ Latinization; see Yotsugana /z/ Elsewhere Mandarin Standard /ts/ Pinyin latinization Northern Sami /dz/ Modern Scots /g/ Some words and names /j/ Some words and names /z/ Usually Spanish Most of European /θ/ American, Andalusian, Canarian /s/ Turkmen /ð/ Venetian /d/ Dialectal, archaic /dz/ /ð/ Dialectal, archaic


In modern English orthography, the letter ⟨z⟩ usually represents the sound /z/.

It represents /ʒ/ in words like seizure. More often, this sound appears as ⟨su⟩ or ⟨si⟩ in words such as measure, decision, etc. In all these words, /ʒ/ developed from earlier /zj/ by yod-coalescence.

Few words in the Basic English vocabulary begin with ⟨z⟩, though it occurs in words beginning with other letters. It is the least frequently used letter in written English,[10] with a frequency of about 0.08% in words. ⟨z⟩ is more common in the Oxford spelling of British English than in standard British English, as this variant prefers the more etymologically 'correct' -ize endings, which are closer to Greek, to -ise endings, which are closer to French; however, -yse is preferred over -yze in Oxford spelling, as it is closer to the original Greek roots of words like analyse. The most common variety of English it is used in is American English, which prefers both the -ize and -yze endings. One native Germanic English word that contains 'z', freeze (past froze, participle frozen) came to be spelled that way by convention, even though it could have been spelled with 's' (as with choose, chose and chosen).

⟨z⟩ is used in writing to represent the act of sleeping (sometimes using multiple z's like zzzz). It is used because closed-mouth human snoring often sounds like the pronunciation of this letter.[citation needed]

Other languages

⟨z⟩ stands for a voiced alveolar or voiced dental sibilant /z/, in Albanian, Breton, Czech, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, and the International Phonetic Alphabet. It stands for /t͡s/ in Chinese pinyin, Finnish (occurs in loanwords only), and German, and is likewise expressed /ts/ in Old Norse. In Italian, it represents two phonemes, /t͡s/ and /d͡z/. In Portuguese, it stands for /z/ in most cases, but also for /s/ or /ʃ/ (depending on the regional variant) at the end of syllables. In Basque, it represents the sound /s/.

Castilian Spanish uses the letter to represent /θ/ (as English ⟨th⟩ in thing), though in other dialects (Latin American, Andalusian) this sound has merged with /s/. Before voiced consonants, the sound is voiced to [ð] or [z], sometimes debbucalized to [ɦ] (as in the surname Guzmán [ɡuðˈman], [ɡuzˈman] or [ɡuɦˈman]). This is the only context in which ⟨z⟩ can represent a voiced sibilant [z] in Spanish, though ⟨s⟩ also represents [z] (or [ɦ], depending on the dialect) in this environment.

In Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, ⟨z⟩ usually stands for the sound /s/ and thus shares the value of ⟨s⟩; it normally occurs only in loanwords that are spelt with ⟨z⟩ in the source languages.

The letter ⟨z⟩ on its own represents /z/ in Polish. It is also used in four of the seven officially recognized digraphs: ⟨cz⟩ (/t͡ʂ/), ⟨dz⟩ (/d͡z/ or /t͡s/), ⟨rz⟩ (/ʐ/ or /ʂ/, sometimes it represents a sequence /rz/) and ⟨sz⟩ (/ʂ/), and is the most frequently used of the consonants in that language. (Other Slavic languages avoid digraphs and mark the corresponding phonemes with the háček (caron) diacritic: ⟨č⟩, ⟨ď⟩, ⟨ř⟩, ⟨š⟩; this system has its origin in Czech orthography of the Hussite period.) ⟨z⟩ can also appear with diacritical marks, namely ⟨ź⟩ and ⟨ż⟩, which are used to represent the sounds /ʑ/ and /ʐ/. They also appear in the digraphs ⟨dź⟩ (/d͡ʑ/ or /t͡ɕ/) and ⟨dż⟩ (/d͡ʐ/ or /t͡ʂ/).

Hungarian uses ⟨z⟩ in the digraphs ⟨sz⟩ (expressing /s/, as opposed to the value of ⟨s⟩, which is ʃ), and ⟨zs⟩ (expressing ʒ).

In Modern Scots ⟨z⟩ is used in place of the obsolete letter ⟨ȝ⟩ (yogh) and should be pronounced as a hard 'g'. Whilst there are a few common nouns which use ⟨z⟩ in this manner, such as brulzie (pronounced 'brulgey' meaning broil), z as a yogh substitute is more common in people's names and place-names. Often the names are mispronounced to follow the apparent English spelling so Mackenzie is commonly pronounced with a 'z' sound. Menzies, however, still retains the correct pronunciation of 'Mingus'.

Kunrei-shiki systems, ⟨z⟩ is used to represent that same phoneme before /i/, where it's pronounced [d͡ʑ ~ ʑ].

Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

  • 𐤆 : Semitic letter Zayin, from which the following letters derive
    • Ζ ζ : Greek letter Zeta, from which the following letters derive