B b
Writing systemLatin script
English alphabet
ISO basic Latin alphabet
Language of originLatin language
Sound values
(Adapted variations)
In UnicodeU+0042, U+0062
Alphabetical position2
Numerical value: 2
Time periodunknown to present
Associated graphsbv

Associated numbers2
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.

B, or b, is the second 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 bee (pronounced /ˈb/), plural bees.[1][2]

It represents the voiced bilabial stop in many languages, including English. In some other languages, it is used to represent other bilabial consonants.


Western Greek
Egyptian hieroglyphic house Phoenician beth Greek beta Etruscan B Latin B

The Roman ⟨B⟩ derived from the Greek capital beta Β via its Etruscan and Cumaean variants. The Greek letter was an adaptation of the Phoenician letter bēt 𐤁.[3] The Egyptian hieroglyph for the consonant /b/ had been an image of a foot and calf ⟨ B ⟩,[4] but bēt (Phoenician for "house") was a modified form of a Proto-Sinaitic glyph ⟨ Bet ⟩ adapted from the separate hieroglyph Pr Per meaning "house".[5][a] The Hebrew letter bet ב is a separate development of the Phoenician letter.[3]

By Byzantine times, the Greek letter Β came to be pronounced /v/,[3] so that it is known in modern Greek as víta (still written βήτα). The Cyrillic letter ve В represents the same sound, so a modified form known as be Б was developed to represent the Slavic languages' /b/.[3] (Modern Greek continues to lack a letter for the voiced bilabial plosive and transliterates such sounds from other languages using the digraph/consonant cluster μπ, mp.)

Old English was originally written in runes, whose equivalent letter was beorc , meaning "birch". Beorc dates to at least the 2nd-century Elder Futhark, which is now thought to have derived from the Old Italic alphabets' ⟨ 𐌁 ⟩ either directly or via Latin B.

The uncial B and half-uncial b introduced by the Gregorian and Irish missions gradually developed into the Insular scripts' b. These Old English Latin alphabets supplanted the earlier runes, whose use was fully banned under King Canute in the early 11th century. The Norman Conquest popularised the Carolingian half-uncial forms which latter developed into blackletter ⟨ b ⟩. Around 1300, letter case was increasingly distinguished, with upper- and lower-case B taking separate meanings. Following the advent of printing in the 15th century, Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and Scandinavia continued to use forms of blackletter (particularly Fraktur), while England eventually adopted the humanist and antiqua scripts developed in Renaissance Italy from a combination of Roman inscriptions and Carolingian texts. The present forms of the English cursive B were developed by the 17th century.

Late Renaissance or early Baroque design of a B, from 1627

Use in writing systems

Pronunciation of ⟨b⟩ by language
Orthography Phonemes
Standard Chinese (Pinyin) /p/
English /b/
French /b/, /p/
German /b/, /p/
Portuguese /b/
Spanish /b/
Turkish /b/


In English, ⟨b⟩ denotes the voiced bilabial stop /b/, as in bib. In English, it is sometimes silent. This occurs particularly in words ending in ⟨mb⟩, such as lamb and bomb, some of which originally had a /b/ sound, while some had the letter ⟨b⟩ added by analogy (see Phonological history of English consonant clusters). The ⟨b⟩ in debt, doubt, subtle, and related words was added in the 16th century as an etymological spelling, intended to make the words more like their Latin originals (debitum, dubito, subtilis).

A metal letter "B" with a mantispid standing on it

As /b/ is one of the sounds subject to Grimm's Law, words which have ⟨b⟩ in English and other Germanic languages may find their cognates in other Indo-European languages appearing with ⟨bh⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨f⟩ or ⟨φ⟩ instead.[3] For example, compare the various cognates of the word brother. It is the seventh least frequently used letter in the English language (after V, K, J, X, Q, and Z), with a frequency of about 1.5% in words.

Other languages

Many other languages besides English use ⟨b⟩ to represent a voiced bilabial stop.

In Estonian, Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Scottish Gaelic and Mandarin Chinese Pinyin, ⟨b⟩ does not denote a voiced consonant. Instead, it represents a voiceless /p/ that contrasts with either a geminated /pː/ (in Estonian) or an aspirated /ph/ (in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Scottish Gaelic and Pinyin) represented by ⟨p⟩. In Fijian ⟨b⟩ represents a prenasalised /mb/, whereas in Zulu and Xhosa it represents an implosive /ɓ/, in contrast to the digraph ⟨bh⟩ which represents /b/. Finnish uses ⟨b⟩ only in loanwords.

Other systems

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, [b] is used to represent the voiced bilabial stop phone. In phonological transcription systems for specific languages, /b/ may be used to represent a lenis phoneme, not necessarily voiced, that contrasts with fortis /p/ (which may have greater aspiration, tenseness or duration).

Other uses

Main article: B (disambiguation)

Related characters

Ancestors, descendants and siblings

Derived ligatures, abbreviations, signs and symbols

Other representations


The Latin letters ⟨B⟩ and ⟨b⟩ have Unicode encodings U+0042 B LATIN CAPITAL LETTER B and U+0062 b LATIN SMALL LETTER B. These are the same code points as those used in ASCII and ISO 8859. There are also precomposed character encodings for ⟨B⟩ and ⟨b⟩ with diacritics, for most of those listed above; the remainder are produced using combining diacritics.

Variant forms of the letter have unique code points for specialist use: the alphanumeric symbols set in mathematics and science, Latin beta in linguistics, and halfwidth and fullwidth forms for legacy CJK font compatibility. The Cyrillic and Greek homoglyphs of the Latin ⟨B⟩ have separate encodings: U+0412 В CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER VE and U+0392 Β GREEK CAPITAL LETTER BETA.


NATO phonetic Morse code
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Signal flag Flag semaphore American manual alphabet (ASL fingerspelling) British manual alphabet (BSL fingerspelling) Braille dots-12
Unified English Braille


  1. ^ It also resembles the hieroglyph for /h/ ⟨ H ⟩ meaning "manor" or "reed shelter".


  1. ^ "B", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989
  2. ^ "B", Merriam-Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1993
  3. ^ a b c d e Baynes, T. S., ed. (1878), "B" , Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 3 (9th ed.), New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 173
  4. ^ Schumann-Antelme, Ruth; Rossini, Stéphane (1998), Illustrated Hieroglyphics Handbook, English translation by Sterling Publishing (2002), pp. 22–23, ISBN 1-4027-0025-3
  5. ^ Goldwasser, Orly (March–April 2010), "How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs", Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 36, Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society, ISSN 0098-9444, archived from the original on 30 June 2016, retrieved 11 August 2015
  6. ^ a b Miller, Kirk; Ashby, Michael (8 November 2020). "L2/20-252R: Unicode request for IPA modifier-letters (a), pulmonic" (PDF).
  7. ^ Constable, Peter (30 September 2003). "L2/03-174R2: Proposal to Encode Phonetic Symbols with Middle Tilde in the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  8. ^ Constable, Peter (19 April 2004). "L2/04-132 Proposal to add additional phonetic characters to the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  9. ^ Everson, Michael; et al. (20 March 2002). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 February 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.