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Q or q (spoken: in Germany and Switzerland [ kuː ]; in Austria in general [ kveː ], in mathematics [ kuː ]) is the 16th letter of the classical and the 17th letter of the modern Latin alphabet . It denotes a consonant . In most languages, the Q occurs - apart from proper names - only in the digraph QU, in German this letter combination has the sound value / kv /. The letter Q has an average frequency of 0.02% in German texts and is therefore the rarest letter in German texts.

The letter Q is in the finger alphabet

The finger alphabet for the deaf or hard of hearing represents the letter Q with the index finger and thumb pointing down and the remaining fingers on the palm.


Protosinaitic Qof symbol (?) Phoenician Qoph Early Greek Qoppa Etruscan Q Latin Q
Protocanaan Qoph symbol
Phoenician Qoph Early Greek Qoppa Etruscan Q Latin Q

It is controversial whether the letter appeared in the Protosinaite script . If that is the case, then the early form of the Q is probably a symbol that looks like an 8. The earliest definitely identified ancestor is the letter Qoph in the Phoenician alphabet . This letter already has strong similarities with the Latin Q. There are two theories as a reason for the appearance of the Qoph: Based on the acrophonic principle , the letter could represent its name ( qoph means "monkey"), the back view of a monkey, the line of it Tail. Another possibility would be for the symbol to represent a human head and neck. Among the Phoenicians, Kof had the sound value / q / for the voiceless uvular plosive . The sound of the [q] corresponds to a k, which is pronounced in the throat (on the uvula ).

The Greeks adopted the letter as Qoppa in their alphabet and changed it so that the vertical line was no longer drawn. Since Greek did not contain the sound / q /, they used the qoppa for the / k / sound before the back vowels / o / and / u /, while they wrote / k / before the other vowels with kappa . Because two letters turned out to be redundant for a phoneme , the Qoppa was abolished early and only remained in use as a number symbol for 90.

When the Etruscans adopted the Greek alphabet, the qoppa was still in use and was thus also adopted in the ancient Italian alphabet . With the Etruscans, the letter V could have both the sound value / β / and / u /, and the Etruscan language contained both sound sequences / kβ / and / ku /. In order to be able to differentiate between them, the Etruscans used the letter Q to reproduce / k / before / u / (there was no / o / in Etruscan ). In addition to the K was the before / a / used and from the Greek Gamma emerged C (Etruscan had no voiced consonants), which was / is used before / e / and / i, the Etruscan therefore also had a third letter with the sound value / k /.

Through the Etruscan mediation, the Q also entered the Latin alphabet, only the bottom line moved to the right over time. At first the Etruscan practice was followed and wrote e.g. B. PEQUNIA for pecunia ("money"). Later one went over to writing the / k / only with C. The Q was retained in the letter combination <QV> (= <QU>) in order to be able to write the sound [ ]. This emerged from the Urindo-European Labiovelar and in Latin was not simply a combination of [k] and [w], but an independent phoneme . As can be seen from the metric rules of poetry, the [ ] also became more independent Perceived aloud. Therefore it was also logical to use a special spelling for him. So qui [ kʷiː ] (“who”) could be distinguished from cui [ ˈkui ] (“whom”).


In many languages ​​that are written with the Latin alphabet, the grapheme <QU> for <KV> or <KW> has been retained for historical reasons , although in these languages ​​it is not an independent phoneme. In German the digraph <QU> is pronounced as [ kv ], in many other languages, such as English, as [ kw ]. In some Romance languages ( French , Spanish , Portuguese ) <QU> is used for the / k / sound in front of the front vowels / e / or / i / (example: Québec ).

In different languages, the Q can appear without a U after it. In Albanian orthography , the Q has stood for the voiceless palatal plosive [ c ] since 1908 . In the pinyin inscription used for Chinese , the Q stands for the affricate [ tɕʰ ]. In the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), the grapheme denotes the voiceless uvular plosive [ q ], based on the Phoenician Qoph . The letter Q is used for this sound in some modern alphabets in non-European languages, such as Quechua , Aymara , Quiché and Greenlandic ( Kalaallisut ). When transcribing Arabic , the Arabic Qaf , which also goes back to the Phoenician Qoph and has the same phonetic value, is sometimes reproduced with Q (e.g. “ Qalam ”). In Somali , Q denotes the voiced uvular plosive , in Maltese a glottic stroke . In some southern African languages ​​(e.g. Zulu and Xhosa ), a Q represents a click sound .


A left-tilted Q (℺) (ROTATED CAPITAL Q) is contained in the Unicode character set version 3.0.0 from September 1999 under U + 213a.


“The ones already in the (Franconian) ahd. The spelling qu is taken from the Latin alphabet (q is not a German letter. ...) and corresponds to the goth. double consonants kv di kw (for which Vulfila has a simple character, usually reproduced with q in the transscription, similar to the hv, which corresponds etymologically to the Latin qu), which in the ahd. literally becomes chw (chuu, chu, qhu, quh, qu, ...) shifts, in mhd. and nhd. but completely returns to the level of the first sound shift, because qu is like (goth.) kw, which was written next to qu until the 17th century. had received …"

See also

  • ق , the Arabic letter Qaf
  • ק , the Hebrew letter Koph


  • Answering a reader question. In: Der Sprachdienst 4, 2014, pp. 168–169. The short article covers the history of the q from the Phoenician Qoph to Greek, Etruscan and Latin to German.

Web links

Commons : Q  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Q  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: q  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations