How many letters are there in the English alphabet?

Twenty-eight years ago, I was an inspector of schools with the Education Bureau (then Education Dept). One day, after observing a lesson, I chatted with the teacher, who complained that many of her students didn’t even know ‘the 24 letters’ of the English alphabet. I smiled, faking understanding and agreement.

This morning, I learnt that indeed there was a time in history when there were only 24 letters in the English alphabet – it was only after the early 16th century when ‘i’ came to be distinguished from ‘j’, and ‘u’ from ‘v’ (The Fight for English by David Crystal, p. 32). Interesting!

(And a reminder for teachers: Don’t say ‘my students don’t even know all the alphabets.’ There is only one alphabet in English, and it contains 26 letters.)

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One thought on “How many letters are there in the English alphabet?

  1. While we’re being accurate, let’s keep in mind that the “26 letters of the alphabet” represent a relatively recent standardization. As late as the 19th century, scholarly publications referred to the “24 letters.” The “Family Journal and Christian Philanthropist” from 1833 contains the following fact: “The various combinations into which the twenty-four letters of the alphabet may be arranged, amount to 620,448,401,239,439,360,000.” The “Journal of the Society of Arts, Vol 6” from 1858 informs us that, “Ampere was the first to propose an electro-magnetic needle telegraph, consisting of 24 needles, representing each a letter of the alphabet….”

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