What was the Middle English alphabet

Learn the English alphabet

The English alphabet is important to fully master the English language. If you know the individual letters and can name them, spelling will be easy for you and you will be able to communicate better. We explain the English alphabet with pronunciation and special features!

The English alphabet at a glance

Today's english The alphabet consists of 26 letters and is based on the Latin script. Each letter is present twice, as upper and lower case letters. As in German, the spelling or typographical representation depends on the font used and differs from the cursive font.

The English alphabet has 21 consonants and the five vowels A, E, I, O and U. In contrast to the German alphabet, there are no umlauts.

Incidentally, English is one of them most spoken languages ​​worldwide: In 2020, 1,132 million people will speak English.

The English alphabet: names and pronunciation of the letters

In the following table you will find the 26 letters of the English alphabet with their names and pronunciation in British and American English in the phonetic transcription of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Differences in pronunciation between American and British English

The pronunciation of the five letters O, Q, R, Y, and Z differs in American and British English. There is a major difference in the letter Z: while Americans say “zee”, the pronunciation “zed” is predominant in British English. Voiced pronunciation is important in both cases.

The British pronounce the R like a vowel with an open mouth. The American pronunciation, alveolar or retroflex, on the other hand, sits further back with an audible trill. The American O also seems to transition from an open vowel to a semi-closed U.

Do you want to work on your pronunciation? We explain to you how to get a british accent!

More characters in the English alphabet


The ampersand is also known as “Kaufmännisches Und” in German and is called “Ampersand” in English. The typographical representation as “&” results from a contracted spelling, a ligature, the letters “e” and “t”, the Latin word “et” for “and”. The abbreviation “& c” stands for “et cetera”.

The ampersand or ampersand was long considered the 27th letter of the English alphabet until around 1835. In modern English, however, the English alphabet only has 26 letters and “&” is no longer the 27th letter.

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Diacritical marks

The most common diacritical marks in English are the two accents acute and grave accents (é and è), circumflex (â, î and ô), tilde (ñ), diaries (ö, ü and ï) and cedilla ç. However, these are additional characters, not independent letters.

Diacritical marks often denote loan words such as “naïve” or “façade”. In common usage these characters are often left out and the spellings “naive” and “facade” are also accepted. The French spelling of “hôtel” is also no longer common, as the English word “hotel” originated from it. Real foreign words like “soupçon” have kept the diacritical mark.

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It is also common to identify different words to avoid confusion, such as “résumé” and “resume”. An older spelling uses diacritical marks to clarify the number of syllables in a word. “Cursed” is the monosyllabic past tense of the verb “curse”, while “cursèd” is a two-syllable adjective. There is a parallel between “learned” and “learnèd”. In the literature there is also the spelling with diariesis: “a learnëd man”.

The diariesis can also indicate that two consecutive vowels are not a digraph, i.e. a single sound. The double O in “coop” is pronounced like one sound, while in “zoölogist” and “coöperation” or “zoëtrope” two sounds can be heard. The diariesis and a spelling like “naïve” is generally only used by scientific publications or large newspapers.


The apostrophe is also not part of the English alphabet, but marks the genitive as well as contracted words or plural forms: “Marcel’s coffee” or “can’t” for “cannot” and “All these words end with a’s”.

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Old English and Middle English letters

The Old English alphabet consisted of 29 letters, namely the 24 letters of the Latin alphabet including the ampersand and five other letters represented by runes:

  • The long S: ſ
  • Eth: Ð and ð
  • Thorn: Þ and þ
  • Wynn: Ƿ and ƿ
  • Ash: ᚫ, later Æ and æ

The following were also found in Middle English:

  • Ethel: Œ and œ
  • Yogh: Ȝ and ȝ

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More facts about the English alphabet

  • The word alphabet itself is made up of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. As in German there is the expression “Das ABC” in English as “the ABC”.
  • In written English there is an unusually high number of digraphs, i.e. connections of two letters to a sound: ch, ci, ck, gh, ng, ph, qu, rh, sc, sh, th, ti, wh, wr and zh. However, these do not represent independent letters of the alphabet.
  • The two vowels “A” and “I” are separate words in English: the indefinite article “a” and the pronoun “I”.
  • Compared to today's English, the consonants J and W and the vowel U were missing in Old English.
  • “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog” is a so-called pangram, a holo-alphabetic sentence that contains all letters of the alphabet. A German equivalent would be "Twelve boxers chase Viktor across the great Sylt dike".

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