S

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S (play /ˈɛs/; named ess; es- when part of compound word, plural esses)[1] is the nineteenth letter in the basic modern Latin alphabet.

Contents

History

Semitic Šîn ("teeth") represented a voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ (as in ship). Greek did not have this sound, so the Greek sigma (Σ) came to represent /s/. In Etruscan and Latin, the /s/ value was maintained, and only in modern languages has the letter been used to represent other sounds.

The minuscule form of s was ſ, called the long s, up to the fifteenth century or so, and the form 'S' was used then only as upper case, just like 'G' and 'A' were only upper case. With the introduction of printing, the modern form s began to be used at the end of words by some printers. Later, it was used everywhere and eventually spread to manuscript letters as well. For example, "sinfulness" would be rendered as "ſinfulneſſ" in all medieval hands, later it was "ſinfulneſs" in some blackletter hands and in print. The modern usage "sinfulness" didn't become widespread in print until the beginning of the 19th century, largely to prevent confusion of 'ſ' with the lower case f in typefaces which had a very short horizontal stroke in their lowercase 'f'. The ligature of ſs (or ſz) became the German ess-tsett, ß.

Usage

The letter S represents the voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ in most languages; it also commonly represents the voiced alveolar fricative /z/, as in the Portuguese mesa or the English does. It is often used at the ends to denote the plural such as in dogs or pages. It may also represent the voiceless postalveolar fricative [ ʃ ], as in Portuguese, Hungarian, and German (before p, t).

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