The Semitic sound value of Qôp (perhaps originally qaw, "cord of wool", and possibly based on an Egyptian hieroglyph) was /q/ (voiceless uvular stop), a sound common to Semitic languages, but not found in English or most Indo-European ones. In Greek, this sign as Qoppa Ϙ probably came to represent several labialized velar stops, among them /kʷ/ and /kʷʰ/. As a result of later sound shifts, these sounds in Greek changed to /p/ and /pʰ/ respectively. Therefore, Qoppa was transformed into two letters: Qoppa, which stood for a number only, and Phi Φ which stood for the aspirated sound /pʰ/ that came to be pronounced /f/ in Modern Greek.
In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters C, K and Q were all used to represent the two sounds /k/ and /ɡ/, which were not differentiated in writing. Of these, Q was used before a rounded vowel (e.g. 〈EQO〉 'ego'), K before /a/, and C elsewhere. Later, the use of C (and its variant G) replaced most usages of K and Q: Q survived only to represent /k/ when immediately followed by a /w/ sound. The Etruscans used Q in conjunction with V to represent /kʷ/.
Use in English
In English the digraph 'qu' most often denotes the cluster //, except in borrowings from French where it represents // as in 'plaque'. See list of English words containing Q not followed by U. Q is the second-least-common letter in the English language, with a frequency of just 0.09% in words. Only Z occurs less often. It is the only letter not included in the name of any US state.
Use in other languages
In most European languages written in the Latin script, such as in Romance and Germanic languages, 'q' appears almost exclusively in the digraph 'qu'. Notable exceptions to this are Albanian, in which 'q' represents the voiceless palatal stop [c]; and Maltese and Võro, which use 'q' to represent the glottal stop [ʔ]. In French, Occitan, Catalan and Portuguese, 'qu' represents /k/ or /kw/; in Spanish, it represents /k/. 'qu' replaces 'c' for /k/ before front vowels 'i' and 'e', since in those languages 'c' represents a fricative or affricate before front vowels. In Italian 'qu' represents [kw] (where [w] is the semivowel allophone of /u/).
Q has a wide variety of pronunciations among non-European languages that have adopted the Latin alphabet. The International Phonetic Alphabet uses Q for the voiceless uvular stop, and it has this value in Aymara, Greenlandic, Quechua, Uyghur and Uzbek. In Azerbaijani, 'q' stands for a voiced velar stop [ɡ]. In Chinese Hanyu Pinyin, 'q' is used to represent the sound [tɕʰ], which is close to English 'ch' in "cheese", but pronounced further toward the front of the mouth. 'q' in Fijian has the value of a prenasalized voiced velar stop [ŋɡ]. In Kiowa, 'q' represents a glottalized velar stop [kʼ]. In Xhosa and Zulu, 'q' is used for the postalveolar click [kǃ].
Forms and variants
The lowercase Q (q) is usually seen as a lowercase O with a descender (i.e., downward vertical tail) extending from the right side of the bowl, with or without a swash (i.e., flourish), even a reversed lowercase p. The lowercase Q's descender is usually typed without a swash due to the major style difference typically seen between the descenders of the lowercase G (a loop) and lowercase Q (vertical). The descender of the lowercase Q is sometimes handwritten finishing with a rightward swash to distinguish from the leftward facing curved descender on the lowercase G.
In some forms of English cursive, the capital 'Q' is very close in appearance to a numeral two, '2', and many people use the print 'Q' instead.
Related letters and other similar characters
- Ꝗ ꝗ : Latin letter Q with stroke
- ʠ : Latin letter Q with hook
- Ɋ ɋ : Latin letter Q with hook tail
- Ԛ ԛ : Cyrillic letter Qa
- Ќ, ќ : Cyrillic letter Kje
- Қ қ : Cyrillic letter Ka with descender
- ק : Hebrew Qoph
- ℺ : rotated capital Q, a signature mark
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER Q||LATIN SMALL LETTER Q|
|Numeric character reference||Q||Q||q||q|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- "Q" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "que," op. cit.
- Sihler, Andrew L. (1995), New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (illustrated ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, p. 21, ISBN 0-19-508345-8
- Media related to Q at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of Q at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of q at Wiktionary