Writing direction

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The writing direction (also: writing direction ) determines the direction in which the characters of a written language to be written and read. In German texts the writing direction is primarily from left to right and secondarily from top to bottom .


When a word is written it starts with a character . The writing direction determines whether the next character is placed to the left or right of the previous, above or below. The next word almost always goes in this direction. You have to read in the same direction. This property of texts is called linearity . The writing direction determines the macrotypographical basic unit line .

A distinction is made between primary and secondary writing direction. The primary direction of writing is that in which the individual characters follow one another. The secondary writing direction is that in which the lines follow one another.

If the primary direction of writing is horizontal, as is the case with the Latin script used for most Western languages, for example , then one speaks of a horizontal script. If primarily written vertically (i.e. from top to bottom or from bottom to top), one speaks of a vertical font.

In the case of horizontal fonts, a distinction is made between right-hand (from left to right), left-hand (right to left) and bustrophedon (lines alternately written from left to right and from right to left) writing direction based on the primary direction of writing. Almost all horizontal fonts are written secondarily from top to bottom.

If documents are bound in book form, the binding is on the left of the title page in the case of primarily clockwise fonts, and to the right of the title page in the case of primarily counterclockwise fonts.

A font that is written from left to right and from top to bottom (regardless of which of these is the primary and which is the secondary direction) can only be accidentally blurred by right-handers if the font size is very large.

Direction of writing in different writing systems

The Latin script is a horizontal right-hand script, which means that it is primarily written from left to right. The same applies to almost all other scripts in the European cultural area, such as Greek , Cyrillic , Armenian and Georgian .

The Ethiopian script and the numerous Indian scripts , for example Devanagari , Tamil and - outside of India - Thai and Tibetan, are also horizontally clockwise . These are Abugidas , where the sign for the vowel following a consonant is sometimes also to the left of the consonant; the units consisting of consonant and vowel always follow one another from left to right.

The Semitic consonant scripts, for example Arabic and Hebrew , are horizontal, left-handed scripts, which means that they are primarily written from right to left.

Chinese , Japanese and Korean scripts are traditionally written primarily from top to bottom and secondarily from right to left; in the case of single-line texts, the direction from right to left must be found (as it is a series of columns of length 1). Due to the western influence, however, a writing direction like that for texts with Latin script is also widespread today. The classic Mongolian script , which is still used in Inner Mongolia today, runs primarily from top to bottom and secondarily from left to right.

The Irish Ogham script and some Filipino scripts such as the Tagbanuwa script are primarily written from the bottom up.


The early Greeks (approx. 800 to 600 BC) initially handled the direction of writing in a variable manner. There were left-hand (sinistrograde), right-hand (dextrograde) and the bustrophedone ("how the ox plows") spelling. With the bustrophedon, the direction of writing often changed the alignment of the individual letters from line to line. As a result, the shape and orientation of many letters - such as M and A - have evolved so that they appear similar in both directions.

No later than the 4th century BC. The clockwise spelling prevailed in the Greek area, as it is still used in Europe today.

Column writing in newspapers

Newspaper with columns

The columns in newspapers are relatively narrow so that the reader can keep the text in his immediate field of vision. It makes reading easier for him. At the end of a column he has to reorient his gaze to the beginning of a column in order to then grasp the lines from left to right with his eyes and slowly follow the text from top to bottom. The writing direction is basically unchanged here, only the individual text block is shorter and narrower.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: writing direction  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Direction of writing  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Why do we write from left to right? An essay by Daniel Scholten , accessed on May 28, 2020.

Individual evidence

  1. Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexikon Sprach. 4th, updated and revised edition, keyword: "Direction of writing". Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02335-3 .