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S and s (pronounced: [ ʔɛs ]) is the 18th letter of the classical and the 19th letter of the modern Latin alphabet . The S is a consonant . In German texts it occurs with an average frequency of 7.27%: it is the fourth most common letter , the second most common consonant. Historically, different characters have evolved to represent the s and its combinations (S, ſ, s, ß, ẞ). There are separate articles for each of the letters Langes s (“ſ”), final s , Sharp s (“ß”) and Großes Eszett (“ẞ”). The fugue-s , which stands between parts of compound words such as “Amt s sprache”, occurs particularly often in the German language.

The letter S is in the finger alphabet

The finger alphabet for the deaf or hard of hearing represents the letter S , with the closed fist pointing away from the body and the thumb in front of the fingers.

History of the letter S

Arch (protosinaitic) Phoenician shin Greek sigma Etruscan S Roman capital-S
Arch (protosinaitic) Phoenician shin Greek sigma Etruscan S Roman capital-S
(2nd - 5th centuries)

The Protosinaitic script, the original form of the letter, represents an arc. In the Phoenician alphabet , the letter was somewhat geometrized and was given the name Schin , which means arc. The phonetic value of the shin among the Phoenicians was [ʃ] .

The Greek did not know the sound [ʃ]. The shin was nevertheless adopted in the Greek alphabet . The Greeks changed the phonetic value in [s], as well as they turned the letter by 90 degrees counter (!) The clockwise direction . With the change of the writing direction from-left-to-right, the letter was then still mirrored and thus received its shape known to this day as Sigma .

The Etruscans adopted the rotated, but not yet mirrored version from the Greeks. In Etruscan, the letter lost its top line over time and looked like an upside-down Z. The Romans adopted this symbol, but made it more fluid. The sound value of the S remained with the Etruscans and Romans that [s].

Uncial S Carolingian minuscule s Textura fracture German Kurrentschrift
(3rd - 9th centuries)
Carolingian minuscule
(8th-11th centuries)
(from 12th century)
(from around 1514)
German Kurrentschrift
(from the 16th century)

Several characters have been developed for the lowercase s: On the one hand, the round s (s) is a reduced version of the capital letter S, and on the other hand, the long s “ſ” , which probably originated from quick cursive writing. In the typeface, the long s was used in the word, syllable and stem initials and mostly within a word, the round s mainly at the end of a word or part of a word (for the rules, see the article Langes s ). Incidentally, there is also a variant of the small Greek sigma for the position of the beginning of the word and the middle of the word (σ) and the end of the word (ς), and here, too, the final variant can be both on the word and (albeit less often, and not quite the same) or rules as clear as in German) at the end of the morpheme . See also the origin of the minuscule s in the article "Long s".

Humanistic italics Renaissance Antiqua Classicist Antiqua Egyptienne Grotesque
Humanistic italics
(15th century)
Renaissance Antiqua
(from the 16th century)
Classicist Antiqua
(from the end of the 18th century)
(from around 1830)
(from around 1830)

In the broken scripts , the distinction between a long and a round s is still mandatory in German spelling. Early Antiqua fonts also often contained the letter, but there it fell out of use. However, the long s has left its mark in German in the letter ß , which goes back to a ligature made up of ſ and z or s. The exact origin of the Eszett has not yet been clarified, information on this in article ß .

Names of the S variants

Due to specific forms, a distinction is sometimes made here between: Latin cursive handwriting; Printing antiqua; Fracture; German current script. The terms are used in a particularly colloquial manner across scripts, especially with the "ß". Some terms can only be safely understood through the system of counter terms used in the text.

Names of the S variants
S. ſ s ß
Italics Antiqua fracture Current Italics Antiqua fracture Current Italics Antiqua fracture Current
capital S small long-s little s
long s round s sharp S
long s short s
Uppercase S. Along Short-S Sharp-S
Start-s Final s
Beginning of syllable s Final s
Internal s
(north German; Paſtor )
Street s
(analogous to Vogel V )
SZ / Eszett
(taken from Fraktur)
SZ / Eszett
[Verse. 1] Loops-s round s ß
long s
[Verse. 2] long s round s Loops-s
Shaft s Snake-s Hump-s
small snake S. Backpack s
(Bavarian, hist.)
(Bavarian, hist.)
Drei erles-s
(scenic, Swabia)
Double s
(Switzerland, ambiguous compared to "ss")

There are also spellings with -Es instead of just s . In addition to the character, the formulation sharp s is also used for pronunciation, where it is in contrast to the soft s or mild s , and is ultimately implemented through letter combinations such as ss or earlier ſſ . There is also a short s for the pronunciation style. In English there is also the term rucksack-s or sputnik-s for the plural-s.

Usage and pronunciation

Readers with German as their mother tongue must carefully distinguish between the letters s and z on the one hand and the phonetic signs , the [s] and the [z] on the other, as the examples "70" and "nass" make clear. The word Seventy has pronunciation [ ziːpt͡sɪç ], the pronunciation wet is a [ nas shown]. The letter s is one with its pronunciation [z] to the consonant graphemes , which in the normal case (individually before vowel letters or word inside between vowels) voiced or Lenis - obstruents represent ( , d b, g, s, w / b, d, g, z, v /) and thus face the corresponding voiceless Fortis fruit letters ( p, t, k, ß, f / p, t, k, s, f /). However, it is a typical phenomenon in German that under certain conditions these consonant letters are pronounced like their corresponding Fortis counterparts (pea, emerald, gullet) .

This pronunciation phenomenon in standard German is mainly dependent on the position of the sound assigned to the letter in the spoken syllable .
For s , as for b, d, g, w:

  • At the end of a syllable they are spoken as (voiceless) Fortis (Ka s th, Ko s mo s , Hau 's since s , lie b te, a b , wi d mung, un d , emerald d , depending g Liche, Mo w chen ).
  • In front of other voiceless Fortis obstruents, they are pronounced as (voiceless) Fortis ( S kat, A s t, A b t, Er b se, Smara g d).
  • At the beginning of a syllable (if no Fortis precedes and no Fortis follows), they are against it as Lenis- phoneme spoken (in this position, so a difference in meaning) ( S ee, ro s e, Daisies s e, El b e u b rig g facilitated, w wrestle). This sound is voiced in standard language, but unvoiced in southern German in the case of s . This means that it can often not be clearly separated from ß in southern Germany . Similarly, in southern Germany, b (and often d and g ) coincides with the pronunciation of p (t, k) .

The following also applies to s :

  • Not only before voiceless Fortis obstruents, but before all consonant letters, s is pronounced as (voiceless) Fortis ( S lalom, S maragd, S winemünde)
  • It follows from this that ss is not used for the Lenis but for the Fortis sound as a “ shorthand symbol ” or to represent the syllable joint (kü ss en, lä ss t).
  • In st and sp it is pronounced at the beginning of the syllable like "sch + t" / ʃt / or "sch + p" / ʃp / ( S tadt, Ge s penst).
  • In the trigraph “sch” it is pronounced as a sibilant / ʃ / (already, ash).
  • After l, n, m, ng a scion consonant (a plosive with a corresponding place of articulation) can be inserted before / s / , so that e.g. B. nst no different complements (Art - grunts) , mst no different MPST (rummst - flops) and ngst no different nkst (sing - sinking) is spoken.

Sound history

In Old High German and in the early Middle High German there were two different s-sounds: a voiceless alveolar-palatal fricative [⁠ ɕ ⁠] , which on an inherited Germanic s / ss declined (for example in sunne, stone, kiss, Kirse ); and a voiceless alveolar fricative [s], which arose in the 2nd sound shift from a short t z / zz (for example in ezzen, daz, groz ). In today's spelling s for the sch initial sound before t and p, which usually goes back to the first original s, this difference has an effect.

In most cases, today's sch goes back to an original sk , which first developed into an s-ch and then into today's sch . In a word like cherry and in the initial voice before l, m, n, w (snow, pig) it goes back to an older s or z , in Hirsch to t .

Representation in computer systems

International character encoding standard  Unicode
character Unicode
designation Unicode block
S. U + 0053 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER S Latin capital letter S Basic Latin
s U + 0073 LATIN SMALL LETTER S Latin Small Letter S. Basic Latin
ſ U + 017F LATIN SMALL LETTER LONG S Latin Small Letter Long S. Latin, extended-A
ß U + 00DF LATIN SMALL LETTER SHARP S Latin Small Letter Sharp S. Latin-1, supplement
U + 1E9E LATIN CAPITAL LETTER SHARP S Latin Capital Letter Sharp S Latin, further addition

s in statistical tables

According to DIN 55301 (design of statistical tables), the minuscule s , which is placed after a value (number) in a table compartment, stands for "estimated number" as a value-supplementing character, including quality indicators (as opposed to value-substituting characters). This is exactly how the symbol is used in tables of official statistics .


S [...], nineteenth letter of our alphabet, with the name es (HELBER syllabierbüchl. 4, 5 Roethe). the corresponding loud is one of the dental noises (spirants), and was already divided into a hard and a soft level in ancient Germanic times "

See also

Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. Badische Zeitung , Literature & Lectures , February 5, 2015, Andreas Frey, badische-zeitung.de: Art of the Fugue - When is an S between compound words?
  2. Guidelines for the design of statistical tables for network programming, Working Group Publications of the State Statistical Offices, Wiesbaden 1997, 41 pages, here: page 36.
  3. GENESIS-Online database: Explanation of symbols