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A, or a, is the first
letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, Object (philosophy ...
and the first
vowel letter A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in Vowel ...
of the
modern English alphabet Modern may refer to: History *Modern history ** Early Modern period ** Modern age, Late Modern period *** 18th century *** 19th century *** 20th century ** Contemporary history * Moderns, a faction of Freemasonry that existed in the 18th century ...
and the
ISO basic Latin alphabet The ISO basic Latin alphabet is a Latin-script alphabet A Latin-script alphabet (Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet) is an alphabet that uses Letter (alphabet), letters of the Latin script. The 21-letter archaic Latin alphabet and the 23-lette ...
. Its name in English is ''a'' (pronounced ), plural ''aes''. It is similar in shape to the
Ancient Greek letter Ancient history is the aggregate of past eventsWordNet Search – 3.0
from t ...

Ancient Greek letter
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...

, from which it derives. The
uppercase Letter case is the distinction between the letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or ...
version consists of the two slanting sides of a triangle, crossed in the middle by a horizontal bar. The lowercase version can be written in two forms: the double-storey a and single-storey ɑ. The latter is commonly used in handwriting and fonts based on it, especially fonts intended to be read by children, and is also found in
italic type In typography, italic type is a cursive font based on a stylised form of calligraphic handwriting. Owing to the influence from calligraphy, italics normally slant slightly to the right. Italics are a way to emphasise key points in a printed tex ...
. In the English grammar, " a", and its variant " an", are
indefinite articles An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identifiability of the referents of the noun phrases. The category of articles constitutes a part of speech. In English, both "the" and "a/an" are ...


The earliest certain ancestor of "A" is
aleph Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, sig ...

(also written 'aleph), the first letter of the
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
, which consisted entirely of
consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of d ...
s (for that reason, it is also called an abjad to distinguish it from a true alphabet). In turn, the ancestor of aleph may have been a pictogram of an ox head in proto-Sinaitic script influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs, styled as a triangular head with two horns extended. When the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks adopted the alphabet, they had no use for a letter to represent the glottal stop—the consonant sound that the letter denoted in Phoenician language, Phoenician and other Semitic languages, and that was the first phoneme of the Phoenician pronunciation of the letter—so they used their version of the sign to represent the vowel , and called it by the similar name of
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...

. In the earliest Greek inscriptions after the Greek Dark Ages, dating to the 8th century BC, the letter rests upon its side, but in the Greek alphabet of later times it generally resembles the modern capital letter, although many local varieties can be distinguished by the shortening of one leg, or by the angle at which the cross line is set. The Etruscan civilization, Etruscans brought the Greek alphabet to their civilization in the Italian Peninsula and left the letter unchanged. The Romans later adopted the Old Italic script, Etruscan alphabet to write the Latin, Latin language, and the resulting letter was preserved in the Latin script, Latin alphabet that would come to be used to write many languages, including English.

Typographic variants

During Roman times, there were many variant forms of the letter "A". First was the monumental or lapidary style, which was used when inscribing on stone or other "permanent" media. There was also a cursive style used for everyday or utilitarian writing, which was done on more perishable surfaces. Due to the "perishable" nature of these surfaces, there are not as many examples of this style as there are of the monumental, but there are still many surviving examples of different types of cursive, such as letter case, majuscule cursive, letter case, minuscule cursive, and semicursive minuscule. Variants also existed that were intermediate between the monumental and cursive styles. The known variants include the early Uncial script#Half-uncial, semi-uncial, the uncial, and the later semi-uncial. At the end of the Roman Empire (5th century AD), several variants of the cursive minuscule developed through Western Europe. Among these were the semicursive minuscule of Italy, the Merovingian script in France, the Visigothic script in Spain, and the Insular script, Insular or Anglo-Irish semi-uncial or Anglo-Saxon majuscule of Great Britain. By the 9th century, the Carolingian minuscule, Caroline script, which was very similar to the present-day form, was the principal form used in book-making, before the advent of the printing press. This form was derived through a combining of prior forms. 15th-century Italy saw the formation of the two main variants that are known today. These variants, the ''Italic'' and ''Roman'' forms, were derived from the Caroline Script version. The Italic form, also called ''script a,'' is used in most current handwriting and consists of a circle and vertical stroke. This slowly developed from the fifth-century form resembling the Greek letter tau in the hands of medieval Irish and English writers. The Roman form is used in most printed material; it consists of a small loop with an arc over it ("a"). Both derive from the majuscule (capital) form. In Greek handwriting, it was common to join the left leg and horizontal stroke into a single loop, as demonstrated by the uncial version shown. Many fonts then made the right leg vertical. In some of these, the serif that began the right leg stroke developed into an arc, resulting in the printed form, while in others it was dropped, resulting in the modern handwritten form. Graphic designers refer to the ''Italic'' and ''Roman'' forms as "single decker a" and "double decker a" respectively. Italic type is commonly used to mark emphasis or more generally to distinguish one part of a text from the rest (set in Roman type). There are some other cases aside from italic type where ''script a'' ("ɑ"), also called Latin alpha, is used in contrast with Latin "a" (such as in the International Phonetic Alphabet).

Use in writing systems


In modern English orthography, the letter represents at least seven different vowel sounds: *the near-open front unrounded vowel as in ''pad''; *the open back unrounded vowel as in ''father'', which is closer to its original Latin and Greek sound; *the diphthong as in ''ace'' and ''major'' (usually when is followed by one, or occasionally two, consonants and then another vowel letter) – this results from Middle English lengthening followed by the Great Vowel Shift; *the modified form of the above sound that occurs English-language vowel changes before historic /r/, before , as in ''square'' and ''Mary''; *the rounded vowel of ''water''; *the shorter rounded vowel (not present in General American) in ''was'' and ''what''; *a schwa, in many unstressed syllables, as in ''about'', ''comma'', ''solar''. The double sequence does not occur in native English words, but is found in some words derived from foreign languages such as ''Aaron'' and ''aardvark''. However, occurs in List of Latin-script digraphs, many common digraphs, all with their own sound or sounds, particularly , , , , and . is the third-most-commonly used letter in English (after and ), and the second most common in Spanish and French. In one study, on average, about 3.68% of letters used in English texts tend to be , while the number is 6.22% in Spanish and 3.95% in French.

Other languages

In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, denotes an open unrounded vowel, such as , , or . An exception is Saanich dialect, Saanich, in which (and the glyph Á) stands for a close-mid front unrounded vowel .

Other systems

In phonetic and phonemic notation: *in the International Phonetic Alphabet, is used for the open front unrounded vowel, is used for the open central unrounded vowel, and is used for the open back unrounded vowel. *in X-SAMPA, is used for the open front unrounded vowel and is used for the open back unrounded vowel.

Other uses

In algebra, the letter ''a'' along with other letters at the beginning of the alphabet is used to represent known quantities, whereas the letters at the end of the alphabet (''x'', ''y'', ''z'') are used to denote unknown quantities. In geometry, capital A, B, C etc. are used to denote Line segment, segments, line (geometry), lines, Line (geometry)#Ray, rays, etc. A capital A is also typically used as one of the letters to represent an angle in a triangle, the lowercase a representing the side opposite angle A. "A" is often used to denote something or someone of a better or more prestigious quality or status: A-, A or A+, the best grade that can be assigned by teachers for students' schoolwork; "A grade" for clean restaurants; A-list celebrities, etc. Such associations can have a motivation, motivating effect, as exposure to the letter A has been found to improve performance, when compared with other letters. "A" is used as a prefix on some words, such as asymmetry, to mean "not" or "without" (from Greek). In English grammar, "a", and its variant "an", is an Article (grammar)#Indefinite article, indefinite article, used to introduce noun phrases. Finally, the letter A is used to denote size, as in a narrow size shoe, or a small cup size in a brassiere.

Related characters

Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet

*Æ æ : Æ, Latin ''AE'' ligature *A with diacritics: Å, Å å Ǻ, Ǻ ǻ Ring (diacritic), Ḁ ḁ ẚ Ă, Ă ă Ặ, Ặ ặ Ắ, Ắ ắ Ằ, Ằ ằ Ẳ, Ẳ ẳ Ẵ, Ẵ ẵ Ȃ, Ȃ ȃ Â, Â â Ậ, Ậ ậ Ấ, Ấ ấ Ầ, Ầ ầ Ẫ, Ẫ ẫ Ẩ, Ẩ ẩ Ả, Ả ả Caron, Ǎ ǎ Bar (diacritic), Ⱥ ⱥ Dot (diacritic), Ȧ ȧ Ǡ, Ǡ ǡ Dot (diacritic), Ạ ạ Ä, Ä ä Ǟ, Ǟ ǟ À, À à Ȁ, Ȁ ȁ Á, Á á Ā, Ā ā Ā̀ ā̀ Ã, Ã ã Ą, Ą ą Ą́ ą́ Ą̃ ą̃ A̲ a̲ ᶏ *Phonetic transcription#Alphabetic, Phonetic alphabet symbols related to A (the International Phonetic Alphabet only uses lowercase, but uppercase forms are used in some other writing systems): **Ɑ ɑ : Latin alpha, Latin letter alpha / script A, which represents an open back unrounded vowel in the IPA **ᶐ : Latin small letter alpha with retroflex hook **Ɐ ɐ : Turned A, which represents a near-open central vowel in the IPA **Λ ʌ : Turned V (also called a wedge, a caret, or a hat), which represents an open-mid back unrounded vowel in the IPA **Ɒ ɒ : Turned alpha / script A, which represents an open back rounded vowel in the IPA **ᶛ : Modifier letter small turned alpha **ᴀ : Small capital A, an Obsolete and nonstandard symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet, obsolete or non-standard symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet used to represent various sounds (mainly open vowels) **A a ᵄ : Modifier letters are used in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet (UPA) (sometimes encoded with Unicode subscripts and superscripts) **a : Subscript small a is used in Indo-European studies **ꬱ : Small letter a reversed-schwa is used in the Teuthonista phonetic transcription system **Ꞻ ꞻ : Glottal A, used in the transliteration of Ugaritic

Derived signs, symbols and abbreviations

*ª : an ordinal indicator *Å : Ångström sign *∀ : a turned capital letter A, used in predicate logic to specify universal quantification ("for all") *@ : At sign *₳ : Argentine austral

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

*𐤀 : Phoenician alphabet, Semitic letter Aleph, from which the following symbols originally derive **Α α : Greek alphabet, Greek letter Alpha, from which the following letters derive ***А а : Cyrillic letter A (Cyrillic), A *** : Coptic alphabet, Coptic letter Alpha ***𐌀 : Old Italic script, Old Italic A, which is the ancestor of modern Latin A **** : Runes, Runic letter Ansuz (rune), ansuz, which probably derives from old Italic A *** : Gothic alphabet, Gothic letter aza/asks *Ա ա : Armenian alphabet, Armenian letter Ayb (letter), Ayb

Computing codes

: 1

Other representations




* * * * * * * * *

External links

History of the Alphabet
* {{Authority control ISO basic Latin letters Vowel letters