S, or s, is the nineteenth letter of the Latin alphabet, used in the modern English alphabet, the alphabets of other western European languages and others worldwide. Its name in English is ess[a] (pronounced /ˈɛs/), plural esses.[1]

S s
Writing systemLatin script
TypeAlphabetic and Logographic
Language of originLatin language
Phonetic usage
Unicode codepointU+0053, U+0073
Alphabetical position19
Time period~-700 to present
Other letters commonly used withs(x), sh, sz
Writing directionLeft-to-Right
This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.


Western Greek

Northwest Semitic šîn represented a voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ (as in 'ship'). It originated most likely as a pictogram of a tooth (שנא) and represented the phoneme /ʃ/ via the acrophonic principle.[2]

Ancient Greek did not have a /ʃ/ phoneme, so the derived Greek letter sigma (Σ) came to represent the voiceless alveolar sibilant /s/. While the letter shape Σ continues Phoenician šîn, its name sigma is taken from the letter samekh, while the shape and position of samekh but name of šîn is continued in the xi. [citation needed]Within Greek, the name of sigma was influenced by its association with the Greek word σίζω (earlier *sigj-) "to hiss". The original name of the letter "sigma" may have been san, but due to the complicated early history of the Greek epichoric alphabets, "san" came to be identified as a separate letter, Ϻ.[3] Herodotus reports that "San" was the name given by the Dorians to the same letter called "Sigma" by the Ionians.[4]

The Western Greek alphabet used in Cumae was adopted by the Etruscans and Latins in the 7th century BC, over the following centuries developing into a range of Old Italic alphabets including the Etruscan alphabet and the early Latin alphabet.In Etruscan, the value /s/ of Greek sigma (𐌔) was maintained, while san (𐌑)represented a separate phoneme, most likely /ʃ/ (transliterated as ś). The early Latin alphabet adopted sigma, but not san, as Old Latin did not have a /ʃ/ phoneme.

The shape of Latin S arises from Greek Σ by dropping one out of the four strokes of that letter.The (angular) S-shape composed of three strokes existed as a variant of the four-stroke letter Σ already in the epigraphy in Western Greek alphabets, and the three and four strokes variants existed alongside one another in the classical Etruscan alphabet. In other Italic alphabets (Venetic, Lepontic), the letter could be represented as a zig-zagging line of any number between three and six strokes.

The Italic letter was also adopted into Elder Futhark, as Sowilō (), and appears with four to eight strokes in the earliest runic inscriptions, but is occasionally reduced to three strokes () from the later 5th century, and appears regularly with three strokes in Younger Futhark.

The ⟨sh⟩ digraph for English /ʃ/ arose in Middle English (alongside ⟨sch⟩), replacing the Old English ⟨sc⟩ digraph. Similarly, Old High German ⟨sc⟩ was replaced by ⟨sch⟩ in Early Modern High German orthography.

Long s

Late medieval German script (Swabian bastarda, dated 1496) illustrating the use of long and round s: prieſters tochter ("priest's daughter").

The minuscule form ſ, called the long s, developed in the early medieval period, within the Visigothic and Carolingian hands, with predecessors in the half-uncial and cursive scripts of Late Antiquity. It remained standard in western writing throughout the medieval period and was adopted in early printing with movable types. It existed alongside minuscule "round" or "short" s, which was at the time only used at the end of words.

In most Western orthographies, the ſ gradually fell out of use during the second half of the 18th century, although it remained in occasional use into the 19th century.In Spain, the change was mainly accomplished between 1760 and 1766. In France, the change occurred between 1782 and 1793. Printers in the United States stopped using the long s between 1795 and 1810. In English orthography, the London printer John Bell (1745–1831) pioneered the change. His edition of Shakespeare, in 1785, was advertised with the claim that he "ventured to depart from the common mode by rejecting the long 'ſ' in favor of the round one, as being less liable to error....."[5] The Times of London made the switch from the long to the short s with its issue of 10 September 1803. Encyclopædia Britannica's 5th edition, completed in 1817, was the last edition to use the long s.

In German orthography, long s was retained in Fraktur (Schwabacher) type as well as in standard cursive (Sütterlin) well into the 20th century, until official use of that typeface was abolished in 1941.[6]The ligature of ſs (or ſz) was retained, however, giving rise to the Eszett ß, in contemporary German orthography.

Use in writing systems

Pronunciation of ⟨s⟩ by language
Standard Chinese (Pinyin)/s/
English/s/, /z/, silent
French/s/, /z/, silent
German/z/, /s/, /ʃ/
Portuguese/s/, /z/


In English, ⟨s⟩ represents a voiceless alveolar sibilant /s/. It also commonly represents a voiced alveolar sibilant /z/, as in 'rose' and 'bands'.

Due to yod-coalescence, it may represent a voiceless palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/, as in 'sugar', or a voiced palato-alveolar fricative /ʒ/, as in 'measure'.

In some words of French origin, ⟨s⟩ is silent, as in 'isle' or 'debris'.

The letter ⟨s⟩ is the seventh most common letter in English and the third-most common consonant after ⟨t⟩ and ⟨n⟩.[7] It is the most common letter for the first letter of a word in the English language.[8][9]

Final ⟨s⟩ is the usual mark of plural nouns. It is the regular ending of English third person present tense verbs.


In German, ⟨s⟩ represents:

When doubled (⟨ss⟩), it represents a voiceless alveolar sibilant /s/, as in 'müssen'.

In the digraph ⟨sch⟩, it represents a voiceless palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/, as in 'schon'.

Other languages

In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, ⟨s⟩ represents the voiceless alveolar or voiceless dental sibilant /s/.

In many Romance languages it also represents the voiced alveolar or voiced dental sibilant /z/, as in Portuguese mesa (table).

In Portuguese, it may represent the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/ in most dialects when syllable-final, and [ʒ] in European Portuguese Islão (Islam) or, in many sociolects of Brazilian Portuguese, esdrúxulo (proparoxytone).

In some Andalusian dialects of Spanish, it merged with Peninsular Spanish ⟨c⟩ and ⟨z⟩ and is now pronounced /θ/.

In Hungarian, it represents /ʃ/.

In Turkmen, it represents /θ/.

In several Western Romance languages like Spanish and French, final ⟨s⟩ is the usual mark of plural nouns.

Other systems

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, ⟨s⟩ represents the voiceless alveolar sibilant /s/.

Other uses

Related characters

Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet

Derived signs, symbols, and abbreviations

A letter S in the coat of arms of Sortavala

Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets

  • 𐤔 : Semitic letter Shin, from which the following symbols originally derive
    • archaic Greek Sigma could be written with different numbers of angles and strokes. Besides the classical form with four strokes ( ), a three-stroke form resembling an angular Latin S ( ) was commonly found, and was particularly characteristic of some mainland Greek varieties including Attic and several "red" alphabets.
      • Σ: classical Greek letter Sigma
        • Ϲ ϲ: Greek lunate sigma
          • Ⲥ ⲥ : Coptic letter sima
          • С с : Cyrillic letter Es, derived from a form of sigma
      • 𐌔 : Old Italic letter S, includes the variants also found in the archaic Greek letter
        • S: Latin letter S
        • ᛊ, ᛋ, ᛌ : Runic letter sowilo, which is derived from Old Italic S
      • 𐍃: Gothic letter sigil
  • Ս : Armenian letter Se

Other representations


Character information
UTF-8835311573239 188 179EF BC B3239 189 147EF BD 93
Numeric character referenceSSssSSss
ASCII 1835311573
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

See also



External links