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A a
(See below)
Writing cursive forms of A
Writing systemLatin script
Language of originLatin language
Phonetic usage[a]
Unicode codepointU+0041, U+0061
Alphabetical position1
Numerical value: 1
Time period~-700 to present
Descendants • Æ
 • Ä
 • Â
 • Ʌ
 • ª
 • Å
 • @
 • 🅰


Ա ա

Variations(See below)
Other letters commonly used witha(x), ae, eau
Associated numbers1

A, or a, is the first letter and the first vowel letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.[1][2] Its name in English is a (pronounced /ˈ/), plural aes.[nb 1] It is similar in shape to the Ancient Greek letter alpha, from which it derives.[3] The uppercase 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 the English grammar, "a", and its variant "an", are indefinite articles.


Egyptian   Phoenician
800–700 BC
Latin 300 AD
Egyptian hieroglyphic ox head Phoenician aleph Semitic letter "A", version 1 Greek alpha, version 1 Etruscan A, version 1 Latin A Boeotian Greek Classical uncial, version 1 Latin 300 AD uncial, version 1

F1 </hiero>

Crete "A" Phoenician version of the "A" Semitic "A", version 2 Greek alpha, version 2 Etruscan A, version 2 Latin 4th century BC Boeotioan 800 BC Greek Classical uncial, version 2 Latin 300 AD uncial, version 2

The earliest certain ancestor of "A" is aleph (also written 'aleph), the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet,[4] which consisted entirely of consonants (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[5] influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs, styled as a triangular head with two horns extended.

Blackletter A
Blackletter A
Uncial A
Uncial A
Another Capital A
Another Blackletter A 
Modern Roman A
Modern Roman A
Modern Italic A
Modern Italic A
Modern Script A
Modern script A

When the 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 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 /a/, and called it by the similar name of alpha. 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 Etruscans brought the Greek alphabet to their civilization in the Italian Peninsula and left the letter unchanged. The Romans later adopted the Etruscan alphabet to write the Latin language, and the resulting letter was preserved in the Latin alphabet that would come to be used to write many languages, including English.

Typographic variants

Different glyphs of the lowercase letter A.

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 majuscule cursive, minuscule cursive, and semicursive minuscule. Variants also existed that were intermediate between the monumental and cursive styles. The known variants include the early semi-uncial, the uncial, and the later semi-uncial.[6]

Typographic variants include a double-storey a and single-storey ɑ.

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 or Anglo-Irish semi-uncial or Anglo-Saxon majuscule of Great Britain. By the 9th century, the 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.[6]

Road sign in Ireland, showing the Irish "Latin alpha" form of "a" in lower and upper case 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.[4] The Roman form is used in most printed material; it consists of a small loop with an arc over it ("a").[6] 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

Pronunciation of the name of the letter ⟨a⟩ in European languages, note that /a/ and /aː/ can differ phonetically between [a], [ä], [æ] and [ɑ] depending on the language.


In modern English orthography, the letter ⟨a⟩ represents at least seven different vowel sounds:

The double ⟨aa⟩ sequence does not occur in native English words, but is found in some words derived from foreign languages such as Aaron and aardvark.[7] However, ⟨a⟩ occurs in many common digraphs, all with their own sound or sounds, particularly ⟨ai⟩, ⟨au⟩, ⟨aw⟩, ⟨ay⟩, ⟨ea⟩ and ⟨oa⟩.

⟨a⟩ is the third-most-commonly used letter in English (after ⟨e⟩ and ⟨t⟩),[8] 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 ⟨a⟩, while the number is 6.22% in Spanish and 3.95% in French.[8]

Other languages

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

Other systems

In phonetic and phonemic notation:

Other uses

In algebra, the letter a along with various other letters of the alphabet is often used to denote a variable, with various conventional meanings in different areas of mathematics. Moreover, in 1637, René Descartes "invented the convention of representing unknowns in equations by x, y, and z, and knowns by a, b, and c",[9] and this convention is still often followed, especially in elementary algebra.

In geometry, capital A, B, C etc. are used to denote segments, lines, rays, etc.[6] 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.[5]

"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 motivating effect, as exposure to the letter A has been found to improve performance, when compared with other letters.[10]

"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 indefinite article, used to introduce noun phrases.

Finally, the letter A is used to denote size, as in a narrow size shoe,[5] or a small cup size in a brassiere.[11]

Related characters

Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet

Derived signs, symbols and abbreviations

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

  • 𐤀 : Semitic letter Aleph, from which the following symbols originally derive[17]
    • Α α : Greek letter Alpha, from which the following letters derive[18]
      • А а : Cyrillic letter A[19]
      • Ⲁ ⲁ : Coptic letter Alpha[20]
      • 𐌀 : Old Italic A, which is the ancestor of modern Latin A[21][22]
        •  : Runic letter ansuz, which probably derives from old Italic A[23]
      • 𐌰 : Gothic letter aza/asks[24]
  • Ա ա : Armenian letter Ayb

Computing codes

Character information
Preview A a
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 65 U+0041 97 U+0061
UTF-8 65 41 97 61
Numeric character reference &#65; &#x41; &#97; &#x61;
EBCDIC family 193 C1 129 81
ASCII 1 65 41 97 61
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

NATO phonetic Morse code
About this sound▄▄▄▄▄
ICS Alpha.svg

Semaphore Alpha.svg

Sign language A.svg ⠁
Signal flag Flag semaphore American manual alphabet (ASL fingerspelling) Braille dots-1
Unified English Braille


  1. Aes is the plural of the name of the letter. The plural of the letter itself is rendered As, A's, as, or a's.[2]


  1. "Latin alphabet | Definition, Description, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Simpson & Weiner 1989, p. 1
  3. McCarter 1974, p. 54
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hoiberg 2010, p. 1
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Hall-Quest 1997, p. 1
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Diringer 2000, p. 1
  7. Gelb & Whiting 1998, p. 45
  8. 8.0 8.1 Trinity College 2006
  9. Tom Sorell, Descartes: A Very Short Introduction, (2000). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 19.
  10. Ciani & Sheldon 2010, pp. 99–100
  11. Luciani, Jené (2009). The Bra Book: The Fashion Formula to Finding the Perfect Bra (in English). Dallas, TX: Benbella Books. p. 13. ISBN 9781933771946. OCLC 317453115.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Constable, Peter (19 April 2004), L2/04-132 Proposal to Add Additional Phonetic Characters to the UCS (PDF) (in English), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  13. Everson, Michael; et al. (20 March 2002), L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet Characters for the UCS (PDF) (in English), archived (PDF) from the original on 19 February 2018, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  14. Anderson, Deborah; Everson, Michael (7 June 2004), L2/04-191: Proposal to Encode Six Indo-Europeanist Phonetic Characters in the UCS (PDF) (in English), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  15. Everson, Michael; Dicklberger, Alois; Pentzlin, Karl; Wandl-Vogt, Eveline (2 June 2011), L2/11-202: Revised Proposal to Encode "Teuthonista" Phonetic Characters in the UCS (PDF) (in English), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  16. Suignard, Michel (9 May 2017), L2/17-076R2: Revised Proposal for the Encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic Characters (PDF) (in English), archived (PDF) from the original on 30 March 2019, retrieved 8 March 2019 – via www.unicode.org
  17. Jensen, Hans (1969). Sign, Symbol, and Script (in English). New York: G.P. Putman's Sons.
  18. "Hebrew Lesson of the Week: The Letter Aleph" (in English). 17 February 2013. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018 – via The Times of Israel.
  19. "Cyrillic Alphabet". Encyclopedia Britannica (in English). Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  20. Silvestre, M. J. B. (1850). Universal Palaeography (in English). Translated by Madden, Frederic. London: Henry G. Bohn.
  21. Frothingham, A. L., Jr. (1891). "Italic Studies". Archaeological News. American Journal of Archaeology. 7 (4): 534. JSTOR 496497.
  22. Steele, Philippa M., ed. (2017). Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems (in English). Oxford: Oxbow Books. ISBN 9781785706479.
  23. Fortson, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (in English) (second ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444359688.
  24. "𐌰". Wiktionary.


External links

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