English alphabet is a
Latin alphabet consisting of 26
letters, each having an uppercase and a lowercase form:
The same letters constitute the ISO basic
The exact shape of printed letters varies depending on the typeface
(and font). The shape of handwritten letters can differ significantly
from the standard printed form (and between individuals), especially
when written in cursive style.
Written English has a number of digraphs, but they are not
considered separate letters of the alphabet:
Some traditions[which?] also use two ligatures, æ and œ,[nb 1] or
consider the ampersand (&) part of the alphabet.
1.1 Old English
1.2 Modern English
1.3 Ligatures in recent usage
2 Proposed reforms
6 See also
9 Further reading
See also: History of the
Latin alphabet and English orthography
Main article: Old English
English language was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc
runic alphabet, in use from the 5th century. This alphabet was brought
to what is now England, along with the proto-form of the language
itself, by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Very few examples of this form of
written Old English have survived, these being mostly short
inscriptions or fragments.
Latin script, introduced by Christian missionaries, began to
replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc from about the 7th century, although
the two continued in parallel for some time. Futhorc influenced the
English alphabet by providing it with the letters thorn (Þ
þ) and wynn (Ƿ ƿ). The letter eth (Ð ð) was later devised as a
modification of dee (D d), and finally yogh (Ȝ ȝ) was created by
Norman scribes from the insular g in Old English and Irish, and used
alongside their Carolingian g.
The a-e ligature ash (
Æ æ) was adopted as a letter in its own right,
named after a futhorc rune æsc. In very early Old English the o-e
ligature ethel (
Œ œ) also appeared as a distinct letter, likewise
named after a rune, œðel. Additionally, the v-v or
u-u ligature double-u (W w) was in use.
In the year 1011, a monk named Byrhtferð recorded the traditional
order of the Old English alphabet. He listed the 24 letters of the
Latin alphabet first (including ampersand), then 5 additional English
letters, starting with the Tironian note ond (⁊), an insular symbol
A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & ⁊ Ƿ Þ Ð Æ
In the orthography of Modern English, thorn (þ), eth (ð), wynn (ƿ),
yogh (ȝ), ash (æ), and ethel (œ) are obsolete.
reintroduced homographs of ash and ethel into
Middle English and Early
Modern English, though they are not considered to be the same
letters but rather ligatures, and in any case are
somewhat old-fashioned. Thorn and eth were both replaced by th, though
thorn continued in existence for some time, its lowercase form
gradually becoming graphically indistinguishable from the minuscule y
in most handwriting. Y for th can still be seen in pseudo-archaisms
such as "Ye Olde Booke Shoppe". The letters þ and ð are still used
in present-day Icelandic while ð is still used in present-day
Wynn disappeared from English around the 14th century when it
was supplanted by uu, which ultimately developed into the modern w.
Yogh disappeared around the 15th century and was typically replaced by
The letters u and j, as distinct from v and i, were introduced in the
16th century, and w assumed the status of an independent letter, so
English alphabet is now considered to consist of the
following 26 letters:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
The variant lowercase form long s (ſ) lasted into early modern
English, and was used in non-final position up to the early 19th
Ligatures in recent usage
Outside of professional papers on specific subjects that traditionally
use ligatures in loanwords, ligatures are seldom used in modern
The ligatures æ and œ were until the 19th century (slightly later in
American English) used in formal writing for certain
words of Greek or
Latin origin, such as encyclopædia and cœlom,
although such ligatures were not used in either classical
ancient Greek. These are now usually rendered as "ae" and "oe" in all
types of writing, although in American English, a
lone e has mostly supplanted both (for example, encyclopedia for
encyclopaedia, and maneuver for manoeuvre).
Some fonts for typesetting English contain commonly used ligatures,
such as for ⟨tt⟩, ⟨fi⟩, ⟨fl⟩, ⟨ffi⟩, and ⟨ffl⟩.
These are not independent letters, but rather allographs.
Alternative scripts have been proposed for written English – mostly
extending or replacing the basic
English alphabet – such as the
Deseret alphabet, the Shavian alphabet, Gregg shorthand, etc.
Main article: English terms with diacritical marks
Diacritic marks mainly appear in loanwords such as naïve and façade.
As such words become naturalised in English, there is a tendency to
drop the diacritics, as has happened with old borrowings such as
hôtel, from French. Informal English writing tends to omit diacritics
because of their absence from the keyboard, while professional
copywriters and typesetters tend to include them. Words that are
still perceived as foreign tend to retain them; for example, the only
spelling of soupçon found in English dictionaries (the OED and
others) uses the diacritic. Diacritics are also more likely to be
retained where there would otherwise be confusion with another word
(for example, résumé (or resumé) rather than resume), and, rarely,
even added (as in maté, from Spanish yerba mate, but following the
pattern of café, from French).
Occasionally, especially in older writing, diacritics are used to
indicate the syllables of a word: cursed (verb) is pronounced with one
syllable, while cursèd (adjective) is pronounced with two. È is used
widely in poetry, e.g. in Shakespeare's sonnets.
J.R.R. Tolkien uses
ë, as in O wingëd crown. Similarly, while in chicken coop the
letters -oo- represent a single vowel sound (a digraph), in obsolete
spellings such as zoölogist and coöperation, they represent two.
This use of the diaeresis is rarely seen, but persists into the 2000s
in some publications, such as
MIT Technology Review
MIT Technology Review and The New
An acute, grave, or diaeresis may also be placed over an "e" at the
end of a word to indicate that it is not silent, as in saké. In
general, these devices are often not used even where they would serve
to alleviate some degree of confusion.
British English speaker reciting the English
Problems playing this file? See media help.
The names of the letters are rarely spelled out, except when used in
derivations or compound words (for example tee-shirt, deejay, emcee,
okay, aitchless, etc.), derived forms (for example exed out, effing,
to eff and blind, etc.), and in the names of objects named after
letters (for example em (space) in printing and wye (junction) in
railroading). The forms listed below are from the Oxford English
Dictionary. Vowels stand for themselves, and consonants usually have
the form consonant + ee or e + consonant (e.g. bee and ef). The
exceptions are the letters aitch, jay, kay, cue, ar, ess (but es- in
compounds ), double u, wye, and zed. Plurals of consonants end in -s
(bees, efs, ems) or, in the cases of aitch, ess, and ex, in -es
(aitches, esses, exes). Plurals of vowels end in -es (aes, ees, ies,
oes, ues); these are rare. All letters may stand for themselves,
generally in capitalized form (okay or OK, emcee or MC), and plurals
may be based on these (aes or As, cees or Cs, etc.)
/eɪ/, /æ/[nb 2]
/tʃeː/ > /tseː/ > /seː/
ef (eff as a verb)
/haː/ > /ˈaha/ > /ˈakːa/
el or ell
/ɛr/ > /ar/
ess (es-)[nb 7]
ui, gui ?
The names of the letters are for the most part direct descendants, via
French, of the
Latin (and Etruscan) names. (See
The regular phonological developments (in rough chronological order)
palatalization before front vowels of
Latin /k/ successively to /tʃ/,
/ts/, and finally to Middle French /s/. Affects C.
palatalization before front vowels of
Latin /ɡ/ to Proto-Romance and
Middle French /dʒ/. Affects G.
Latin /uː/ to Middle French /yː/, becoming Middle
English /iw/ and then
Modern English /juː/. Affects Q, U.
the inconsistent lowering of
Middle English /ɛr/ to /ar/. Affects R.
Vowel Shift, shifting all
Middle English long vowels.
Affects A, B, C, D, E, G, H, I, K, O, P, T, and presumably Y.
The novel forms are aitch, a regular development of Medieval Latin
acca; jay, a new letter presumably vocalized like neighboring kay to
avoid confusion with established gee (the other name, jy, was taken
from French); vee, a new letter named by analogy with the majority;
double-u, a new letter, self-explanatory (the name of
Latin V was ū);
wye, of obscure origin but with an antecedent in Old French wi; zee,
an American leveling of zed by analogy with the majority; and izzard,
from the Romance phrase i zed or i zeto "and Z" said when reciting the
Some groups of letters, such as pee and bee, or em and en, are easily
confused in speech, especially when heard over the telephone or a
radio communications link. Spelling alphabets such as the ICAO
spelling alphabet, used by aircraft pilots, police and others, are
designed to eliminate this potential confusion by giving each letter a
name that sounds quite different from any other.
Main article: Letter frequency
The letter most commonly used in English is E. The least used letter
is Z. The frequencies shown in the table may differ in practice
according to the type of text.
The & has sometimes appeared at the end of the English alphabet,
as in Byrhtferð's list of letters in 1011. Historically, the
figure is a ligature for the letters Et. In English and many other
languages it is used to represent the word and and occasionally the
Latin word et, as in the abbreviation &c (et cetera).
The apostrophe, while not considered part of the English alphabet, is
used to contract English words. A few pairs of words, such as its
(belonging to it) and it's (it is or it has), were (form of 'to be')
and we're (we are), and shed (to get rid of) and she'd (she would or
she had) are distinguished in writing only by the presence or absence
of an apostrophe. The apostrophe also distinguishes the possessive
endings -'s and -s' from the common plural ending -s, a practice
introduced in the 18th century; before, all three endings were written
-s, which could lead to confusion (as in, the Apostles words).
Main article: English phonology
The letters A, E, I, O, and U are considered vowel letters, since
(except when silent) they represent vowels; the remaining letters are
considered consonant letters, since when not silent they generally
represent consonants. However, Y commonly represents vowels as well as
a consonant (e.g., "myth"), as very rarely does W (e.g., "cwm").
Conversely, U and I sometimes represent a consonant (e.g., "quiz" and
W and Y are sometimes referred as semivowels by linguists.
NATO phonetic alphabet
English spelling reform
American manual alphabet
Two-handed manual alphabets
New York Point
^ See also the section on Ligatures
^ often in Hiberno-English, due to the letter's pronunciation in the
^ mostly in Hiberno-English, sometimes in Australian English, usually
in Indian English (although often considered
incorrect), and also used in Malaysian English
^ in Scottish English
^ One of the few letter names not spelled with the letter in question.
The spelling qu ~ que is obsolete, being attested from the 16th
^ in Hiberno-English
^ in compounds such as es-hook
^ Especially in American English, the /l/ is often not pronounced in
informal speech. (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed).
Common colloquial pronunciations are /ˈdʌbəjuː/, /ˈdʌbəjə/,
and /ˈdʌbjə/ (as in the nickname "Dubya"), especially in terms like
^ in British English,
Hiberno-English and Commonwealth English
^ in American English
^ "Digraphs (Phonics on the Web)". www.phonicsontheweb.com. Retrieved
^ a b Michael Everson, Evertype, Baldur Sigurðsson, Íslensk
Málstöð, On the Status of the
Latin Letter Þorn and of its Sorting
Dictionary.com definition". Retrieved 18 September 2016.
^ Beker, Henry; Piper, Fred (1982). Cipher Systems: The Protection of
Communications. Wiley-Interscience. p. 397. Table also
available from Lewand, Robert (2000). Cryptological Mathematics. The
Mathematical Association of America. p. 36.
ISBN 978-0883857199. and "Archived copy". Archived from the
original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
Apostrophe Definition". dictionary.com. Retrieved 14 June
Michael Rosen (2015). Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story.
Counterpoint. ISBN 978-1619027022.
Description of the English language
Stress and reduced vowels