The modern 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 Latin alphabet. English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words (although a diaeresis is used by some publishers in words such as "coöperation").As an example, an article containing a diaeresis in "coöperate" and a cedilla in "façades" as well as a circumflex in the word "crêpe" () "The New Yorker's odd mark — the diaeresis"
The exact shape of printed letters varies depending on the typeface (and font). The shape of handwriting 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:
The 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 emerging 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 language, 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 Byrhtferth recorded the traditional order of the Old English alphabet.Michael Everson, Evertype, Baldur Sigurðsson, Íslensk Málstöð, On the Status of the Latin Letter Þorn and of its Sorting Order He listed the 24 letters of the Latin alphabet first (including ampersand), then 5 additional English letters, starting with the Tironian notes ond (⁊), an insular symbol for and:
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 that the 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 century.
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 encyclopedia and body cavity, although such ligatures were not used in either classical Latin or 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).
Occasionally, especially in older writing, diacritics are used to indicate the 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 and The New Yorker.
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.
|a||, often in Hiberno-English, due to the letter's pronunciation in the Irish language||/aː/||/aː/||/aː/||8.17%|
|cee||/keː/||/tʃeː/ > /tseː/ > /seː/||/seː/||2.78%|
|ef ( eff as a verb)||/ɛf/||/ɛf/||/ɛf/||2.23%|
|aitch||/haː/ > /ˈaha/ > /ˈakːa/||/ˈaːtʃə/||/aːtʃ/||6.09%|
|jay||–||–||The letter J did not occur in Old French or Middle English. The Modern French name is ji /ʒi/, corresponding to Modern English jy (rhyming with i), which in most areas was later replaced with jay (rhyming with kay).||0.15%|
|el or ell||/ɛl/||/ɛl/||/ɛl/||4.03%|
|cueOne of the few letter names not spelled with the letter in question. The spelling qu ~ que is obsolete, being attested from the 16th century.||/kuː/||/kyː/||/kiw/||0.10%|
|ar||/ɛr/||/ɛr/||/ɛr/ > /ar/||5.99%|
|ess ( es-)in compounds such as es-hook||/ɛs/||/ɛs/||/ɛs/||6.33%|
|double-u||Especially in American English, the /l/ is often not pronounced in informal speech. (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed). Common colloquial pronunciations are , , and (as in the nickname "Dubya"), especially in terms like www.||–||–||–||2.36%|
|Y||wy||hȳ||/hyː/||ui, gui ?||/wiː/ ?||1.97%|
|ī graeca||/iː ˈɡraɪka/||/iː ɡrɛːk/|
|zedin British English, Hiberno-English and Commonwealth English||/ˈzeːta/||/ˈzɛːdə/||/zɛd/||0.07%|
The regular phonological developments (in rough chronological order) are:
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 alphabet.
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.
W and Y are sometimes referred as semivowels by linguists.