S s
Writing systemLatin script
TypeAlphabetic and logographic
Language of originLatin language
Sound values
In UnicodeU+0053, U+0073
Alphabetical position19
Time period~−700 to present
Associated graphss(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.

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]


Further information: Shin (letter), Sigma, San (letter), and Sho (letter)

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/ "sh" 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 early history of the Greek epichoric alphabets, "san" came to be identified as a separate letter, Ϻ.[3] Herodotus reported 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, and over the following centuries, it developed 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/ "sh" (transliterated as ś). The early Latin alphabet adopted sigma, but not san, as Old Latin did not have a /ʃ/ "sh" 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 of 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").

Main article: Long s

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 were 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, it gave rise to the Eszett ß in contemporary German orthography.

Use in writing systems

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


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 also represent a voiceless palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/, as in 'sugar', or a voiced palato-alveolar fricative /ʒ/, as in 'measure'.

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

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]


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, the 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

Main article: S (disambiguation)

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

Other representations


Character information
Preview S s
Encodings decimal hex dec hex dec hex dec hex
Unicode 83 U+0053 115 U+0073 65331 U+FF33 65363 U+FF53
UTF-8 83 53 115 73 239 188 179 EF BC B3 239 189 147 EF BD 93
Numeric character reference S S s s S S s s
ASCII 1 83 53 115 73
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

NATO phonetic Morse code
  ▄ ▄ ▄ 

Signal flag Flag semaphore American manual alphabet (ASL fingerspelling) British manual alphabet (BSL fingerspelling) Braille dots-234
Unified English Braille

See also


  1. ^ Spelled 'es'- in compound words


  1. ^ "S", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "ess," op. cit.
  2. ^ "corresponds etymologically (in part, at least) to original Semitic (th), which was pronounced s in South Canaanite" Albright, W. F., "The Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from Sinai and their Decipherment," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 110 (1948), p. 15. The interpretation as "tooth" is now prevalent, but not entirely certain. The Encyclopaedia Judaica of 1972 reported that the letter represented a "composite bow".
  3. ^ Woodard, Roger D. (2006). "Alphabet". In Wilson, Nigel Guy. Encyclopedia of ancient Greece. London: Routldedge. p. 38.
  4. ^ "...τὠυτὸ γράμμα, τὸ Δωριέες μὲν σὰν καλέουσι ,Ἴωνες δὲ σίγμα" ('...the same letter, which the Dorians call "San", but the Ionians "Sigma"...'; Herodotus, Histories 1.139); cf. Nick Nicholas, Non-Attic letters Archived 2012-06-28 at archive.today.
  5. ^ Stanley Morison, A Memoir of John Bell, 1745–1831 (1930, Cambridge Univ. Press) page 105; Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use – a study in survivals (2nd. ed, 1951, Harvard University Press) page 293.
  6. ^ Order of 3 January 1941 to all public offices, signed by Martin Bormann. Kapr, Albert (1993). Fraktur: Form und Geschichte der gebrochenen Schriften. Mainz: H. Schmidt. p. 81. ISBN 3-87439-260-0.
  7. ^ "English Letter Frequency". Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  8. ^ "Letter Frequencies in the English Language". Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  9. ^ "Which English Letter Has Maximum Words". 25 June 2012.
  10. ^ a b Everson, Michael; Baker, Peter; Emiliano, António; Grammel, Florian; Haugen, Odd Einar; Luft, Diana; Pedro, Susana; Schumacher, Gerd; Stötzner, Andreas (30 January 2006). "L2/06-027: Proposal to add Medievalist characters to the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 September 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  11. ^ Everson, Michael; Lilley, Chris (26 May 2019). "L2/19-179: Proposal for the addition of four Latin characters for Gaulish" (PDF).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Ruppel, Klaas; Aalto, Tero; Everson, Michael (27 January 2009). "L2/09-028: Proposal to encode additional characters for the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  15. ^ West, Andrew; Chan, Eiso; Everson, Michael (16 January 2017). "L2/17-013: Proposal to encode three uppercase Latin letters used in early Pinyin" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  16. ^ Miller, Kirk; Rees, Neil (16 July 2021). "L2/21-156: Unicode request for legacy Malayalam" (PDF).
  17. ^ Miller, Kirk (11 January 2021). "L2/21-041: Unicode request for additional para-IPA letters" (PDF).
  18. ^ Everson, Michael (25 April 2019). "L2/19-180R: Proposal to add two characters for Middle Scots to the UCS" (PDF).
  19. ^ Everson, Michael (1 October 2020). "L2/20-269: Proposal to add two SIGMOID S characters for mediaeval palaeography" (PDF).