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The English Alphabet

The modern English alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. However, the Latin alphabet is not the original alphabet of the English language. Prior to the Latin alphabet, the Anglo-Saxon furthorc runic alphabet was utilized.

Old English Alphabet

Runes are hieroglyphic characters of a writing system brought to England by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th or 6th century. The origin of runic writing is unknown, but is thought to be derived from an alphabet in the Mediterranean region.

In the 7th century, Christian missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet to England. The runic alphabet gradually died out after inception of the Latin alphabet, although it continued to be used to a lesser degree until the 12th century.

The runic alphabet did, however, contribute additional letters to the Latin alphabet: þ Þ, known as "thorn", and (Ƿ ƿ), known as "wynn". Ð ð, known as "eth", and (Ȝ ȝ), known as "yogh".

Two ligatures, named after runic characters, Æ æ (a-e), called "ash", and Œ œ (o-e), called "eth", also became distinct letters.

In 1011, the Latin alphabet was recorded with 24 letters, the ampersand, a character denoting the word "and" and four English letters by a writer, Byrhferð, as follows:

A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z & Ƿ Þ Ð Æ

Modern English Alphabet

The letters "thorn", "eth", "wynn", and "yogh" fell out of use during the Middle English era. Thorn was replaced by "th" in the 15th century, while eth was similarly displaced by "th" during the 1300’s. The combination of "uu" was used in lieu of wynn beginning in the 13th century. This combination later merged into "w". The digraph of "gh" supplanted Yogh during the 1400's.

While "&" was included in the Latin alphabet list of 1011, it is not formally a part of the English alphabet. The character is, in actuality, a symbol for the word "and".

The modern English alphabet now consists of 26 letters, with uppercase (majuscule) and lowercase (minuscule) forms:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Of the 26 letters, A, E, I, O and U are vowels and the remainder consonants. W and Y sometimes substitute for vowels in words that do not contain any of the five traditional vowels.

Although no longer a formal part of the modern English alphabet, æ and œ continue to be used for spelling of Greek and Latin words in academic writing and in the modified forms of "ae" and "oe" in informal writing. American English generally no longer uses these ligatures, with a single "e" taking their place.

"E" is the most commonly used letter of the English alphabet and "Z" is used the least.

The "alphabet song" frequently teaches the modern English alphabet. The alphabet is recited to the melody of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", a tune composed by Mozart.