The English alphabet has a common pronunciation. For example, the letter b is pronounced like the word bee, the letter c like the word see, and the letter i like the word aye.

Is there a formal spelling for the letter names?

  • 2
    No, not really. English spelling is so awful at recording pronunciation that there are too many ways to represent the pronounced letter names, and no ways that are unambiguous. So you see ee, ie, e, i, for instance for E, o, oh, ow, ou for O, etc. Use phonemic symbols if you need accurate rendition of English sounds. – John Lawler Aug 23 '15 at 18:54
  • 1
    Usual orthography for the names of the letters is just to write the letter itself, capitalized and/or italicized. (These forms are also just about the only ones that really need a greengrocer's apostrophe, since "straight As" does not immediately suggest to the reader a perfect academic record.) One exception, particularly well established, is "aitch" for H. – Brian Donovan Aug 23 '15 at 19:01
  • 2
    I always want to pronounce W as /'wəbəlyu/. It's particularly awful in abbrevietions like the one for Western Washington University here in Bellingham. Western Washington University contains 10 syllables, but Double-U Double-U U contains 7; not much saving there; I tend to pronounce it as /'wuwu/. – John Lawler Aug 23 '15 at 19:15
  • Maybe. There are some general trends, like "tee" for "T" and other rhyming words, and generally you start them out with the actual letter, so we'd be more likely to write "cee" for "C." For the vowels, you just use the vowel letter by itself. I know there's some guy on Wikipedia who insists that each letter has a name with a proper spelling, so it's listed there. Apparently this user gets these supposedly standard names from the Oxford English Dictionary. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_alphabet#Letter_names – sumelic Aug 23 '15 at 20:49

Formal yes, universal no. Here's one:

We have included each letter with its name and plural below the list of examples. The United States uses zee, while other countries use zed.

 A   a                      aes
 B   bee                    bees
 C   cee                    cees
 D   dee                    dees
 E   e                      ees
 F   ef (verbal eff)        efs (effs)
 G   gee                    gees
 H   aitch                  aitches
 I   i                      ies
 J   jay                    jays
 K   kay                    kays
 L   el or ell              els or ells
 M   em                     ems
 N   en                     ens
 O   o                      oes
 P   pee                    pees
 Q   cue                    cues
 R   ar                     ars
 S   ess (es as prefix)     esses
 T   tee                    tees
 U   u                      ues
 V   vee                    vees
 W   double-u               double-ues
 X   ex                     exes
 Y   wy or wye              wyes
 Z   zee or zed             zees or zeds

Letter names Each letter of the English alphabet can be spelled as itself (e.g., a DJ or T-shirt) or it can be spelled out using its name (e.g., a deejay or tee-shirt). Vowels still stand for themselves, and while very rare, the plural of vowels are made by adding -es. In the capitalized form the plurals are made by either -s or -‘s (e.g., L’s or As).

Spelling letters usually occurs in compound names or derivatives. These spellings are different than the phonetic alphabet used to distinguish similar sounding letters while speaking.



I'd like to submit "double-double-u u" for WWU. I'd also like to submit that saying that "English is so awful at recording pronunciation" is like saying "an ostrich is so awful at being a horse," to paraphrase Venezky. English orthography didn't evolve as a phonetic transcription device; no orthography did. That's not its purpose. Symbols have names, and those names are spelled: seven, asterisk, ampersand, hyphen, edh, ash, schwa. Letter are no different. There is variation in letter names (e.g. zee and zed, aitch and haitch), and variations in spelling them, but that isn't because the English ostrich really meant to be an IPA horse.

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