Z or z is the 26th and final letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its usual names in English are zed (pronounced //) and zee //, with an occasional archaic variant izzard //.
|(See below, Typography)|
|Writing system||Latin script|
|Type||Alphabetic and Logographic|
|Language of origin||Latin language|
|Time period||~-700 to present|
|Descendants|| • ʒ|
|Variations||(See below, Typography)|
|Other letters commonly used with||z(x), cz, dž, dz, sz, dzs, tzsch|
Name and pronunciation
In most English-speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Zambia, and Australia, the letter's name is zed //, reflecting its derivation from the Greek zeta (this dates to Latin, which borrowed X, Y, and Z from Greek, along with their names), but in American English its name is zee //, analogous to the names for B, C, D, etc., and deriving from a late 17th-century English dialectal form.
Another English dialectal form is izzard //. This dates from the mid-18th century and probably derives from Occitan izèda or the French ézed, whose reconstructed Latin form would be *idzēta, perhaps a Vulgar Latin form with a prosthetic vowel. Its variants are still used in Hong Kong English although they are usually seen as mispronunciations.
Other languages spell the letter's name in a similar way: zeta in Italian, Basque, Spanish, and Icelandic (no longer part of its alphabet but found in personal names), zê in Portuguese, zäta in Swedish, zæt in Danish, zet in Dutch, Indonesian, Polish, Romanian, and Czech, Zett in German (capitalised as a noun), zett in Norwegian, zède in French, zetto in Japanese romaji, and zét in Vietnamese. Several languages render it as /ts/ or /dz/, e.g. zeta /tsetɑ/ or /tset/ in Finnish. In Standard Chinese pinyin, the name of the letter Z is pronounced [tsɨ], as in "zi", although the English zed and zee have become very common. In Esperanto, the name of the letter Z is pronounced /zo/.
The Semitic symbol was the seventh letter, named zayin, which meant "weapon" or "sword". It represented either the sound /z/ as in English and French, or possibly more like /dz/ (as in Italian zeta, zero).
The Greek form of Z was a close copy of the Phoenician Zayin (
In earlier Greek of Athens and Northwest Greece, the letter seems to have represented /dz/; in Attic, from the 4th century BC onwards, it seems to have stood for /zd/ and /dz/ – there is no consensus concerning this issue. In other dialects, such as Elean and Cretan, the symbol seems to have been used for sounds resembling the English voiced and voiceless th (IPA /ð/ and /θ/, respectively). In the common dialect (koine) that succeeded the older dialects, ζ became /z/, as it remains in modern Greek.
The letter z was part of the earliest form of the Latin alphabet, adopted from Etruscan. Because the sound /z/ in Latin changed to /r/ by rhotacism in the fifth century BC, z was dropped and its place given to the new letter g. In the 1st century BC, z was reintroduced at the end of the Latin alphabet to represent the sound of the Greek zeta /dz/, as the letter y was introduced to represent the sound of the Greek upsilon /y/.
Before the reintroduction of z, the sound of zeta was written s at the beginning of words and ss in the middle of words, as in sōna for ζώνη "belt" and trapessita for τραπεζίτης "banker".
In some inscriptions, z represented a Vulgar Latin sound, likely an affricate, formed by the merging of the reflexes of Classical Latin /j/, /dj/ and /gj/: for example, zanuariu for ianuariu "January", ziaconus for diaconus "deacon", and oze for hodie "today". Likewise, /di/ sometimes replaced /z/ in words like baptidiare for baptizare "to baptize". In modern Italian, z represents /ts/ or /dz/, whereas the reflexes of ianuarius and hodie are written with the letter g (representing /dʒ/ when before i and e): gennaio, oggi. In other languages, such as Spanish, further evolution of the sound occurred.
Early English used S alone for both the unvoiced and the voiced sibilant. The Latin sound imported through French was new and was not written with Z but with G or I. The successive changes can be well seen in the double forms from the same original, jealous and zealous. Both of these come from a late Latin zelosus, derived from the imported Greek ζῆλος zêlos. The earlier form is jealous; its initial sound is the [dʒ], which developed to Modern French [ʒ]. John Wycliffe wrote the word as gelows or ielous.
Last letter of the alphabet
In earlier times, the English alphabets used by children terminated not with Z but with & or related typographic symbols. In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to Z being followed by & when her character Jacob Storey says, "He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th' alphabet like; though ampusand would ha' done as well, for what he could see."
Some Latin based alphabets have extra letters on the end of the alphabet. The last letter for the Icelandic, Finnish and Swedish alphabets is Ö, while it is Å for Danish and Norwegian. In the German alphabet, the umlauts (Ä/ä, Ö/ö, and Ü/ü) and the letter ß (Eszett or scharfes S) are regarded respectively as modifications of the vowels a/o/u and as a (standardized) variant spelling of ss, not as independent letters, so they come after the unmodified letters in the alphabetical order. The German alphabet ends with z.
Variant and derived forms
A glyph variant of Z originating in the medieval Gothic minuscules and the Early Modern Blackletter typefaces is the "tailed z" (German geschwänztes Z, also Z mit Unterschlinge). In some Antiqua typefaces, this letter is present as a standalone letter or in ligatures. Ligated with long s (ſ), it is part of the origin of the Eszett (ß) in the German alphabet. The character ezh (Ʒ) resembles a tailed z, as does the yogh (ȝ), with which it came to be indistinguishable in Middle English writing.
Unicode assigns codepoints U+2128 ℨ BLACK-LETTER CAPITAL Z (HTML
ℨ) and U+1D537 𝔷 MATHEMATICAL FRAKTUR SMALL Z (HTML
𝔷) in the Letterlike Symbols and Mathematical alphanumeric symbols ranges respectively.
There is also a variant with a stroke.
Use in writing systems
In modern English orthography, the letter ⟨z⟩ usually represents the sound //.
Few words in the Basic English vocabulary begin with ⟨z⟩, though it occurs in words beginning with other letters. It is the least frequently used letter in written English, with a frequency of about 0.07% in words. ⟨z⟩ is more common in the Oxford spelling of British English than in standard British English, as this variant prefers the more etymologically 'correct' -ize endings, which are closer to Greek, to -ise endings, which are closer to French; however, -yse is preferred over -yze in Oxford spelling, as it is closer to the original Greek roots of words like analyse. The most common variety of English it is used in is American English, which prefers both the -ize and -yze endings. One native Germanic English word that contains 'z', freeze (past froze, participle frozen) came to be spelled that way by convention, even though it could have been spelled with 's' (as with choose, chose and chosen).
⟨z⟩ stands for a voiced alveolar or voiced dental sibilant /z/, in Albanian, Breton, Czech, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, and the International Phonetic Alphabet. It stands for /t͡s/ in Chinese pinyin, Finnish (occurs in loanwords only), and German, and is likewise expressed /ts/ in Old Norse. In Italian, it represents two phonemes, /t͡s/ and /d͡z/. Castilian Spanish uses the letter to represent /θ/ (as English ⟨th⟩ in thing), though in other dialects (Latin American, Andalusian) this sound has merged with /s/. In Portuguese, it stands for /z/ in most cases, but also for /s/ or /ʃ/ (depending on the regional variant) at the end of syllables. In Basque, it represents the sound /s/.
In Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, ⟨z⟩ usually stands for the sound /s/ and thus shares the value of ⟨s⟩; it normally occurs only in loanwords that are spelt with ⟨z⟩ in the source languages.
The letter ⟨z⟩ on its own represents /z/ in Polish. It is also used in four of the seven officially recognized digraphs: ⟨cz⟩ (/t͡ʂ/), ⟨dz⟩ (/d͡z/ or /t͡s/), ⟨rz⟩ (/ʐ/ or /ʂ/, sometimes it represents a sequence /rz/) and ⟨sz⟩ (/ʂ/), and is the most frequently used of the consonants in that language. (Other Slavic languages avoid digraphs and mark the corresponding phonemes with the háček (caron) accent: ⟨č⟩, ⟨ď⟩, ⟨ř⟩, ⟨š⟩; this system has its origin in Czech orthography of the Hussite period.) Two more Polish digraphs include ⟨z⟩ with diacritical marks, as accent and dot: ⟨dź⟩ (/d͡ʑ/ or /t͡ɕ/) and ⟨dż⟩ (/d͡ʐ/ or /t͡ʂ/). ⟨z⟩ can also appear alone with diacritical marks, namely ⟨ź⟩ or ⟨ż⟩. Similarly, Hungarian uses ⟨z⟩ in the digraphs ⟨sz⟩ (expressing /s/, as opposed to the value of ⟨s⟩, which is ʃ), and ⟨zs⟩ (expressing ʒ).
In Modern Scots the letter z is used to represent the obsolete letter <ȝ> (yogh) and should be pronounced as a hard 'g'. Whilst there are a few common nouns, such as brulzie (pronounced 'brulgey' meaning broil), z as a yogh substitute is more common in people's names and place-names. Often the names are mispronounced to follow the apparent English spelling so Mackenzie is commonly pronounced with a 'z' sound. Menzies, however, still retains the correct pronunciation of 'Mingus'.
Among non-European languages that have adopted the Latin alphabet, ⟨z⟩ usually stands for [z], such as in Azerbaijani, Igbo, Indonesian, Shona, Swahili, Tatar, Turkish, and Zulu. ⟨z⟩ represents [d͡z] in Northern Sami and Inari Sami. In Turkmen, ⟨z⟩ represents [ð].
In mathematics, U+2124 ℤ (DOUBLE-STRUCK CAPITAL Z) is used to denote the set of integers. Originally, ℤ was just a handwritten version of the bold capital Z used in printing but, over time, it has come to be used more frequently in printed works too.
Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet
- Z with diacritics: Ź ź Ẑ ẑ Ž ž Ż ż Ẓ ẓ Ẕ ẕ Ƶ ƶ ᵶ Ᶎ ᶎ Ⱬ ⱬ
- ß : German letter regarded as a ligature of long s (ſ) and short s, called scharfes S or Eszett. (In some typefaces and handwriting styles it is rather a ligature of long s and tailed z (ſʒ).)
- Ȥ ȥ: Latin letter z with a hook, intended for the transcription of Middle High German, for instances of the letter z with a sound value of /s/.
- Ɀ ɀ : Latin letter Z with swash tail
- Ʒ ʒ : Latin letter ezh
- Ꝣ ꝣ : Visigothic Z
- Ᶎ ᶎ : Z with hook, used for writing Mandarin Chinese using the early draft version of pinyin romanization during the mid-1950s
- IPA-specific symbols related to Z: ʒ ʑ ʐ ɮ
- U+1D22 ᴢ LATIN LETTER SMALL CAPITAL Z is used in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet
- Modifier letters ᶻ ᶼ ᶽ are used in phonetic transcription
Ancestors and siblings in other alphabets
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER Z||LATIN SMALL LETTER Z|
|Numeric character reference||Z||Z||z||z|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
On German typewriter- and computer keyboards (in comparison to those used in the UK/US), the positions of the letters Z and Y are swapped. (In German, Y is only used in loanwords and names.)
- "Z", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "zee", op. cit.
- One early use of "zee": Lye, Thomas (1969) [2nd ed., London, 1677]. A new spelling book, 1677. Menston, (Yorkshire) Scolar Press. p. 24. LCCN 70407159.
Zee Za-cha-ry, Zion, zeal
- Michael Chugani (2014-01-04). "又中又英——Mispronunciations are prevalent in Hong Kong". Headline Daily. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
- Henry George Liddell; Robert Scott. "ζῆτα". An Intermediate Greek–English Lexicon. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
- James Grout: Appius Claudius Caecus and the Letter Z, part of the Encyclopædia Romana
- Ti Alkire & Carol Rosen, Romance Languages: A Historical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 61.
- "asset". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "alphabet-e1309627843933.jpg". Retrieved 2018-07-31.
- George Eliot: Adam Bede. Chapter XXI. online at Project Gutenberg
- "English letter frequencies". Archived from the original on 2010-06-09.
- "Scots Language". Wikipedia Modern Scots. Section Consonant. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
- Constable, Peter (2003-09-30). "L2/03-174R2: Proposal to Encode Phonetic Symbols with Middle Tilde in the UCS" (PDF).
- West, Andrew; Chan, Eiso; Everson, Michael (2017-01-16). "L2/17-013: Proposal to encode three uppercase Latin letters used in early Pinyin" (PDF).
- Constable, Peter (2004-04-19). "L2/04-132 Proposal to add additional phonetic characters to the UCS" (PDF).
- Everson, Michael; et al. (2002-03-20). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF).