Is there a word for the first letter of a sentence (i in this sentence)?

Is there a word for the first letter of each word in a sentence (itawftfloewias in this case)?

I understand that as terms, this could be described as an acrostic for the former, and an acrostic, acronym or an initialism for the latter case, but I'm wondering if this can describe the letters themselves, or just the subsequent output. edit: Please note that this is not the answer, just a suggestion, and it isn't correct use of these terms

My best guess would be initial for the latter, but I have no idea for the former - maybe acrostic would be a good choice

  • You said, 'I'm wondering if this does describe the letters themselves, or the subsequent output.' This can be easily checked in a dictionary—better do that, or your question might be closed for not satisfying the research requirement. Feb 19, 2021 at 13:00
  • Having said that, I would be very surprised if there were single words with the meaning you require. But it is hard to prove a negative, of course. Feb 19, 2021 at 13:02
  • @linguisticturn I've edited the question to clear up what I meant there. I understand that it describes the output only, or I would've already answered the question! :p
    – Nick Bull
    Feb 19, 2021 at 13:05
  • I'm not sure I understand: you are asking if acrostic, acronym, or initialism can describe the letters themselves rather than the subsequent output. Isn't that question settled by the dictionary definitions of these words? Feb 19, 2021 at 13:18
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    It always helps to make the question as clear as possible. Since you now know that acrostic, acronym, and initialism can't be used (at least not just as they are; see my comment above for a workaround), it's a good idea to edit the question to make it clear you know that they can't be used, so that newcomers to this question don't think you are asking about that. Feb 19, 2021 at 15:25

2 Answers 2


Since EL&U prefers to have answers as answers rather than have them buried in the comments, I will here repeat a suggestion I made in the comments that the OP liked.

While initial does not by default describe the first letter of anything except names (and also the large letter beginning a text or a division or paragraph), I think it would be OK to say, somewhere in your text, 'I am going to use the term the sentence initial to refer to the first letter of a sentence, and the initials of the sentence to refer to the first letters of the words in a sentence.'

There are many variations on this general theme possible, e.g. word initial, as the OP themself suggested in a comment.

  • But answers on ELU are meant to be recognised usages. These are merely free combinations (cf 'grey radiator'), not even collocations. The first tranche of results for "the sentence initial" in a Google search are all for the compound premodifier. Feb 19, 2021 at 15:36
  • @EdwinAshworth In general, yes. If you think this should be migrated, I have no objections. Having said that, I think this sort of question might be on-topic: is there a way to make a syntactic construction that can be temporarily defined to have a certain meaning, and which native speakers would find natural? It's this last part that (maybe) makes this on-topic. Feb 19, 2021 at 15:41
  • OP asks specifically for a single word. If workarounds of such simple construction are allowed (on any site), we or they will be getting questions like 'What's a more concise way to say 'gloves one uses for gardening'?" (and gardening gloves thankfully doesn't seem to be listed in major dictionaries, in spite of being far more cohesive than '[a] sentence initial'). Feb 19, 2021 at 16:02
  • @EdwinAshworth They might allowed, I guess, only if 1. there do not appear to be any single words, and 2. the suggested workaround is not obvious. The threshold for 2. could be very low on ELL, and of course much higher here. Feb 19, 2021 at 16:17

Initial is actually also used for the first case, especially when referring to elaborated letters in historical books, like this capital O:

Conversation-saints 01.jpg
from Princeton, Public Domain, Link

  • Right—but that's only for the first letter of a paragraph or some larger division of text, not for individual sentences. Feb 19, 2021 at 13:16
  • Also worth noting that littera notabilior is also sometimes used to refer to sentence initialisms or any capitalization in a text. Feb 19, 2021 at 14:15
  • It seems like whilst not technically correct nor one word, most would readily understand "sentence initial" and "word initial"
    – Nick Bull
    Feb 19, 2021 at 14:41
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    @NickBull Yes, as I suggested in a comment above (the one starting with 'One thought…'). Feb 19, 2021 at 15:27
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    Sure thing! I've added 'word initial' too in my comment, which seems a little clearer to me. I figured since this is an answer regarding the use of the word initials, I'd add the comment here. Thanks linguisticturn
    – Nick Bull
    Feb 19, 2021 at 15:29

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