The inventory of all letters forms the alphabet.
Letter is descended from the Latin , which may have descended from the Greek "διφθέρα" (writing tablet), via Etruscan.
Definition and usage
A letter is a type of grapheme, which is a contrastive unit in a writing system.
The contemporary English-language alphabet consists of twenty-six letters, each of which corresponds to one or more sounds.
Letters are combined to form words.
A letter is classified as either a consonant or a vowel, depending on how its sound is produced (vowels are a, e, i, o, u, y and w— with y and w only sometimes classed as vowels).
The basic Roman alphabet is used by hundreds of languages around the world.
There are more phonemes in English–about 44–than there are letters of the alphabet.
A letter may therefore be associated with more than one phoneme, with the phoneme determined by the surrounding letters or etymology of the word.
Regional accents have a significant effect; the letter a can range from five to twelve sounds depending on the origin of the speaker.
As an example of positional effects, the letter c is pronounced [k] before a, o, u, or consonants (e.g. critical), but is pronounced [s] before e, i, or y (e.g. democracy).
Conversely, the same phoneme may be shared by more than one letter, as shown by the c and s in fence and tense.
A sequence of graphemes representing a phoneme is called a polygraph.
A digraph is a case of polygraphy consisting of two graphemes.
Examples of digraphs in English include ch, sh, and th.
A phoneme can also be represented by three letters, called a trigraph.
An example is the combination sch in German.
Specific names are associated with letters, which may differ with language, dialect, and history.
Z, for example, is usually called zed in all English-speaking countries except the US, where it is named zee.
As elements of alphabets, letters have prescribed orders, although this too may vary by language.
In Spanish, for instance, ñ is a separate letter, sorted after n. In English, n and ñ are classified alike.
Letters may also have a numerical or quantitative value.
This applies to Roman numerals and the letters of other writing systems.
In English, Arabic numerals are typically used instead of letters.
Greek and Roman letters are used as mathematical symbols in equations and expressions.
People and objects are sometimes named after letters, for one of these reasons:
- The letter is an abbreviation, e.g. "G-man" as slang for a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, arose as short for "Government Man"
- Alphabetical order used as a counting system, e.g. Plan A, Plan B, etc.; alpha ray, beta ray, gamma ray, etc.
- The shape of the letter, e.g. A-clamp, A-frame, D-ring, F-clamp, G-clamp, H-block, H engine, O-ring, R-clip, U engine, U-bend, V engine, W engine, X engine, Z-drive, a river delta, omega block
- Other reasons, e.g. X-ray after "x the unknown" in algebra, because the discoverer did not know what they were
Types of letters
Examples of alphabets and their letters
Worldwide there are many alphabets used at present, with Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin in widest use.
The following alphabets, abjads, and individual letters are discussed in related articles.
Each represents a different script:
|Example alphabet||Letters in example alphabet|
|Assamese alphabet||অ, আ, ই, ঈ, উ, ঊ, ঋ, এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ, ক, খ, গ, ঘ, ঙ, চ, ছ, জ, ঝ, ঞ, ট, ঠ, ড, ঢ, ণ, ত, থ, দ, ধ, ন, প, ফ, ব, ভ, ম, য, ৰ, ল, ৱ, শ, ষ, স, হ,ক্ষ, ড়, ঢ়, য়, ৎ, ং, ঃ, ঁ|
|Arabic alphabet||(Alphabetical from right to left) ﺍ, ﺏ, ﺕ, ﺙ, ﺝ, ﺡ, ﺥ, ﺩ, ﺫ, ﺭ, ﺯ, ﺱ, ﺵ, ﺹ, ﺽ, ﻁ, ﻅ, ﻉ, ﻍ, ﻑ, ﻕ, ﻙ, ﻝ, ﻡ, ﻥ, هـ, ﻭ, ﻱ|
|Armenian alphabet||Ա, Բ, Գ, Դ, Ե, Զ, Է, Ը, Թ, Ժ, Ի, Լ, Խ, Ծ, Կ, Հ, Ձ, Ղ, Ճ, Մ, Յ, Ն, Շ, Ո, Չ, Պ, Ջ, Ռ, Ս, Վ, Տ, Ր, Ց, Ւ, Փ, Ք, Օ, Ֆ|
|Syriac alphabet||(Alphabetical from right to left) ܐ, ܒ, ܓ, ܕ, ܗ, ܘ, ܙ, ܚ, ܛ, ܝ, ܟܟ, ܠ, ܡܡ, ܢܢ, ܣ, ܥ, ܦ, ܨ, ܩ, ܪ, ܫ, ܬ|
|Cyrillic script||А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я|
|Georgian script||, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,|
|Greek alphabet||Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ, Υ, Φ, Χ, Ψ, Ω|
|Hebrew alphabet||(Alphabetical from right to left) א, ב, ג, ד, ה, ו, ז, ח, ט, י, כ, ל, מ, נ, ס, ע, פ, צ, ק, ר, ש, ת|
|Latin alphabet||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, &|
|Hangul||ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ|
|Burmese||က ခ ဂ ဃ င စ ဆ ဇ ဈ ည ဋ ဌ ဍ ဎ ဏ တ ထ ဒ ဓ န ပ ဖ ဗ ဘ မ ယ ရ လ ဝ သ ဟ ဠ အ|
|Bopomofo||ㄅ ㄆ ㄇ ㄈ ㄉ ㄊ ㄋ ㄌ ㄍ ㄎ ㄏ ㄐ ㄑ ㄒ ㄓ ㄔ ㄕ ㄖ ㄗ ㄘ ㄙ ㄚ ㄛ ㄜ ㄝ ㄞ ㄟ ㄠ ㄡ ㄢ ㄣ ㄤ ㄥ ㄦ ㄧ ㄨ ㄩ ㄭ|
|Ogham||ᚁ ᚂ ᚃ ᚄ ᚅ ᚆ ᚇ ᚈ ᚉ ᚊ ᚋ ᚌ ᚍ ᚎ ᚏ ᚐ ᚑ ᚒ ᚓ ᚔ ᚕ ᚖ ᚗ ᚘ ᚙ ᚚ ᚛ ᚜|
|Ethiopic||ሀ ለ ሐ መ ሠ ረ ሰ ሸ ቀ በ ተ ቸ ኀ ነ ኘ አ ከ ኸ ወ ዐ ዘ ዠ የ ደ ጀ ገ ጠ ጨ ጰ ጸ ፀ ፈ ፐ|
|Tifinagh (Amazigh alphabet)||ⴰ, ⴱ, ⵛ, ⴷ, ⴹ, ⴻ, ⴼ, ⴳ, ⴳⵯ, ⵀ, ⵃ, ⵉ, ⵊ, ⴽ, ⴽⵯ, ⵍ, ⵎ, ⵏ, ⵓ, ⵄ, ⵖ, ⵅ, ⵇ, ⵔ, ⵕ, ⵙ, ⵚ, ⵜ, ⵟ, ⵡ, ⵢ, ⵣ, ⵥ|
For other writing systems and their letters, see List of writing systems.
Upper case and lower case
Main article: Letter case
Upper- and lowercase letters represent the same sound, but serve different functions in writing.
Capital letters are most often used at the beginning of a sentence, as the first letter of a proper name or title, or in headers or inscriptions.
In practical terms, tests have proven that lowercase words are easier to read.
They also take up less space on the page, a considerable benefit when materials such as paper and ink were scarce and valuable.
The terms uppercase and lowercase originated in the days of handset type for printing presses.
Individual letter blocks were kept in specific compartments of drawers in a type case.
Capital letters were stored in a higher drawer or upper case.
Typeface and font
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter (alphabet).