The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






English alphabet

The English language has been written using the Latin alphabet from ca. the 7th century. Since the 5th century, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc had been used, and both alphabets continued to be used in parallel for some time. Use of the Latin alphabet was influenced by the Futhorc: the letters (thorn) and (wynn) are derived from runes. The letter (eth) was devised as a modified version of d, and ȝ was created by Norman scribes who derived it from the form of the insular g used in Old English and Irish alongside their own Carolingian g. This resulted in an English alphabet which consisted of a total of 27 letters (the 23 letters of the post-1st century BC Latin alphabet, one modified Latin letter, two letters borrowed from Runic, and one letter borrowed from the Insular Latin hand). Additionally, the ligatures w (for vv) and (for ae) were in use.

In Modern English orthography, , ȝ, , and ƿ are obsolete, although continued its existence for some time, its lower case form gradually becoming graphically indistinguishable from the minuscule y in most handwritings. On the other hand, u and j were introduced as distinct from v and i in the 16th century, and w assumed the status of an independent letter, so that the English alphabet is now considered to consist of the following 26 letters:

Letter    Letter name (IPA)
B /biː/
C /siː/
D /diː/
E /iː/
F /ɛf/
G /dʒiː/
H /eɪtʃ/ or /heɪtʃ/
I /aɪ/
J /dʒeɪ/
K /keɪ/
L /ɛɫ/
M /ɛm/
N /ɛn/
O /oʊ/
P /piː/
Q /kjuː/
R /ɑː/ (non-rhotic) or /ɑɹ/ (rhotic)
S /ɛs/
T /tiː/
U /juː/
V /viː/
W /dʌb(ə)l juː/
X /ɛks/
Y /waɪ/
Z /zɛd/ or /ziː/ (the latter in American English only)

Unfortunately, these common names for the letters are often hard to distinguish from each other when heard. The NATO phonetic alphabet gives each letter a name specifically designed to sound different from any other. Therefore, aircraft pilots and many other people use the NATO phonetic alphabet names instead of these common names.


The letters A, E, I, O, U are vowels; sometimes Y and W are considered vowels too, which are called semivowels. The remaining letters are consonants. The letter most frequently used in English is E. The least frequent used letters are Q, X, and Z.

Diacritic marks are not common in English, appearing mainly in foreign and loan-words such as rsum and faade. Occasionally, especially in older writing, diacritics are used to indicate the syllables of a word: cursed is pronounced with only one syllable, while cursd would be pronounced with two. See also Written accents in English.

The English alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet. The letter W and the distinctions between I and J, U and V were introduced in continental Europe during the Middle Ages. The Roman ligatures and are still used in British English for certain words of Greek or Latin origin, such as "encyclopdia" and "clom".

In Old English was adopted as a letter on its own and called sc ("ash"), and in very early Old English also appeared as a distinct letter named el. Other Old English letters (also used in Middle English and modern Icelandic) are (thorn) and (eth). Other archaic letters used in Old English were Ȝ (yogh) and Ƿ (wynn), which were later replaced by G or Z, and W respectively. The variant lower-case form ſ (long s) lasted into early modern English and was used up to the early nineteenth century.

Historically the ampersand (&), was considered to be the twenty-seventh letter of the English alphabet, although the figure is properly a ligature for letters e and t; it is used to represent the English word and and sometimes the Latin word et, in the abbreviation &c (et cetera).

See also

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46