F (letter of alphabet)

Pronunciation key


F n. [pl. F's, f's, Fs, fs, (efs). Usage often capitalized.]

  1. The sixth letter of the Greek, Etruscan and Latin alphabets known to the Greeks as digamma, the twentieth of the Arabic alphabet and the 23rd of the Persian alphabet. Originating from Phoenician vau through Hebrew vau (and vav as in some other kindred writings take the place of F and indicates sounds of v and u), and modification of the Old Greek digamma (Ϝ), which was dropped from the Greek alphabet but later restored by the Romans. The sound of F exists in Chinese and Japanese, but is absent in most Baltic and Slavic languages.
  2. The Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese have uniformly replaced the ancient Greek ø (ph) with F.
  3. The sound of F or f, normally an unvoiced labiodental fricative. The spelling of the sound is variegated (philosophy, laughter, rough, lieutenant in British English, and affray) or f may be silent (halfpenny, pronounced hāp′nĭ). Initially it the spelling of the latinized f was difficult and FH was used in the earliest inscriptions. It was bilabial, not a labiodental spirant but the h symbol was simply dropped and F came to be used alone, as it is in the English alphabet.
  4. A type or impression for F or f.
  5. In photography the symbol for F number. In optics, the focal length of a mirror or a lens. A special meaning is assigned to f, as it is used in descriptions of lenses in photography. Nearly every form of the letter is used to indicate the focal length of a lens divided by its actual opening; for instance a 1 inch lens of 4-inch focal length is designated F/4.
  6. A grade rating a student's work as failing.
  7. in geometry, the number of faces of a solid.
  8. An object shaped like an F.
  9. A mediaeval Roman numeral for forty and when featured with a superior bar it is the value of () 40,000.
  10. Sometimes a third grade quality meaning fair.
  11. The holes cut in the belly of violins and similar instruments are called f holes because of their shape.
  12. (symbol), in music the fourth tone or note in the scale of C major or the sixth in the scale of A minor. A key, string, et cetera producing this tone. A scale which has F as the keynote. A symbol for the bass clef.
    • f, bass clef
    • ff and fff, musical directions forte and fortissmo
  13. (symbol), in printing, for folio.
  14. adj. of F or f.
  15. sixth of a sequence or group.
  16. in military expression, Company F.
  17. (symbol), for the sixth in sequence or group.
  18. (symbol), in mathematics, in Calculus, for function and f is the symbol of a function having a differential coefficient.
  19. (symbol), monetary, franc or farthing.
  20. (symbol), in astrophysics, one of the spectral lines produced by hydrogen.
  21. in thermodynamics, free energy
  22. in meterology and physics, two of the layers of the ionosphere.
  23. Small f denotes the following: in electricity, the farad, or, in the more usual form, µ f, the microfarad.
  24. in linear measurement, the fathom, furlong, or foot.
  25. (symbol), in chemistry, fluorine.
  26. (symbol), in genetics, filial generation usually followed by a subscript numeral such as F1, F2 for the first, second, etc. filial generation mating offspring or hybrid offspring of an experimental mating of plants or animals. The parents are the P generation (or P1). In the genetic law of Mendelian inheritance, the mating of two individuals of the F1 generation produce offspring of the F2 generation.[#1]

Usage in abbreviations often capitalized

  1. Fahrenheit
  2. false
  3. family
  4. farad
  5. female
  6. feminine
  7. forte
  8. French
  9. frequency
  10. Friday

[#2] The original symbol in the Egyptian hieroglyphs was the picture of a cerastes or horned asp. When the Egyptian sign was adopted by the Phoenicians it received the name Vau from its resemblance to a nail or peg. It passed from the Phoenicians to the early Greek as a semi-vowel. During some time prior to oldest extant Greek inscriptions it developed into two characters, F which had the sound of w, and the other character being V with the name upsilon which became a vowel.

Egyptian and Cretan Hieroglyphs Egyptian Hieroglyph F
Semitic Semitic F
Phoenician Phoenecian F
Cypro-Phoenician Cypro-Phoenecian F
Early Hebrew Early Hebrew F
Crete Seventh Century B.C. Crete Seventh Century F
Boeotia Boeotia F
Greek Classical Capitals Greek Classical Capital F
Greek Classical Uncials Greek Classical Uncials F
Etruscan Etruscan F
Latin 4th Century B.C. Capitals Latin 4th Century B.C. Capitals
Latin 3rd Century B.C. Uncials Latin 3rd Century B.C. Uncials
Cyrillic and Russian Cyrillic and Russian
German German
English English
Source: Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1960

Both letter and positioning in the modern English alphabet originate from Latin, which derived from the Greek, through the Etruscan. The letter was borrowed by the Greeks from a Semitic writing system, where the name of the sound was waw originally used for the consonant w.

Development of the letter "F" from the ancient Phoenician to Classical Latin and Modern Form.
Name of Form Approximate Date Form of Letter
Phoenician 1200 BC Phoenician F
Cretan 1100-900 BC Cretan F
Theraean 700-600 BC ?
Archaic Latin 700-500 BC Archaic Latin F
Attic 600 BC ?
Corinthian 600 BC Corinthian F
Chalcidian 600 BC Chalcidian F
Ionic 403 BC ?
Roman Colonial Pre-classical and classical times Roman Colonial F
Urban Roman Pre-classical and classical times Urban Roman F
Faliscan Pre-classical and classical times Faliscan F
Oscan Pre-classical and classical times Oscan F
Umbrian Pre-classical and classical times Umbrian F
Classical Latin and Present Form Modern times Classical Latin F
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition, ©1929

The corresponding Greek letter digamma may have represented the w sound but disappeared prior to development of the classical Greek alphabet.

As early as the seventh century B.C. the character F became obsolete as a letter in the Eastern Greek alphabet retained only to represent the numeral six. To the ancient Greeks it was a bilabial spirant similar to the English w. This sound had disappeared early on from the eastern Greek dialects so that the eastern, or Ionic alphabet contained no digamma. In the western alphabet, the Chalcidic and Corinthian alphabets, it was retained until the 5th century B.C., through classical times. From the Chaldcidian alphabet it was transmitted to Italy, in Latin, retaining its position as the sixth character, but with Latin became associated with the sound known of the modern f, instead of v or w. It is found used in early inscriptions in combination with h to represent the unvoiced labial spirant (English f) for example, in the word FHEFHAKED. The h was soon dropped and the sound represented by the letter F alone. The Latin language took V to represent both w and the vowel u, and remains true to the modern day.

Frequent alternation occurs between f and v, partly in grammatical shift (loaf and loaves, theft and thieve), partly dialectical (fox and vixen). In the Cockney dialect f is substituted for th as in the Russian Fyodor (for Theodore). In few and refute it is fy in the English pronunciation. Older pronunciations still exist in sheriff which has f in place of older v(e) as in reeve.

The forms of Greek characters included Greek F, Greek F, Greek F and Greek F. It does not occur in Semitic alphabets. Origin has been a matter of debate among some experts who maintain that it descends from Semitic Vau vau and the evidence is that Digamma in Crete occurs as a form of the digamma in Crete. Others dispute that it was merely differentiated from the epsilon by omission of a horizontal stroke.

Through numerous transitions digamma came to represent the f sound in Western language. It is a voiceless, labiodental fricative made by expelling the breath between the lower lip and upper teeth. The voiced sound of f is v, and both sounds are interchanged at times, for example, the word of.

Letter F History Chart


  • #1 Cited from Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia, ©1984
  • #2 Cited from The American Peoples Encyclopedia, ©1960
  • References

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition, ©1929
  • Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia, ©1950
  • Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Edition), ©1955
  • The New World Family Encyclopedia, ©1955
  • Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1960
  • The American Peoples Encyclopedia, ©1960
  • Encyclopedia International, ©1966 (Grolier Inc.)
  • Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary, Comprehensive International Edition, ©1976
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia, ©1984
  • Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, ©1991
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus, ©2004
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