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This article is about the letter of the alphabet. For other uses, see K (disambiguation).
Writing cursive forms of K

K (named kay /ˈk/)[1] is the eleventh letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In English, the letter K usually represents the voiceless velar plosive.


Egyptian hieroglyph D Proto-Semitic K Phoenician
Etruscan K Greek
Proto-semiticK-01.svg PhoenicianK-01.svg EtruscanK-01.svg Kappa uc lc.svg

The letter K comes from the Greek letter Κ (kappa), which was taken from the Semitic kap, the symbol for an open hand.[2] This, in turn, was likely adapted by Semites who had lived in Egypt from the hieroglyph for "hand" representing D in the Egyptian word for hand, d-r-t. The Semites evidently assigned it the sound value /k/ instead, because their word for hand started with that sound.[3]

In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters C, K and Q were all used to represent the sounds /k/ and /g/ (which were not differentiated in writing). Of these, Q was used to represent /k/ or /g/ before a rounded vowel, K before /a/, and C elsewhere. Later, the use of C and its variant G replaced most usages of K and Q. K survived only in a few fossilized forms such as Kalendae, "the calends".[4]

When Greek words were taken into Latin, the Kappa was transliterated as a C. Loanwords from other alphabets with the sound /k/ were also transliterated with C. Hence, the Romance languages generally use C and have K only in later loanwords from other language groups. The Celtic languages also tended to use C instead of K, and this influence carried over into Old English.

Use in writing systems[edit]


Today, English is the only Germanic language to productively use "hard" c (outside of the digraph ck) rather than k (although Dutch uses it in learned words of Latin origin, and the pronunciation of these words follows the same hard/soft distinction as in English).[citation needed] The letter k is usually silent at the start of an English word when it comes before the letter n, as in the words "knight," "knife," "knot," "know," and "knee".

Other languages[edit]

In most languages where it is employed, this letter represents the sound /k/ (with or without aspiration) or some similar sound.

Other systems[edit]

The International Phonetic Alphabet uses k for the voiceless velar plosive.

Other uses[edit]

In modern-day English slang, the word "k" is used as a substitute for the abbreviation "OK", or Okay. This slang is commonly used in emailing, texting and instant messaging. In International Morse code it is used to mean "over".[5]

Related characters[edit]

Ancestors, descendants and siblings[edit]

Ligatures and abbreviations[edit]

Computing codes[edit]

Character K k
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 75 U+004B 107 U+006B 8490 U+212A
UTF-8 75 4B 107 6B 226 132 170 E2 84 AA
Numeric character reference K K k k K K
EBCDIC family 210 D2 146 92
ASCII 1 75 4B 107 6B
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and nMacintosh families of encodings.

Other representation[edit]

NATO phonetic Morse code
Kilo –·–
ICS Kilo.svg Semaphore Kilo.svg ⠅
Signal flag Flag semaphore Braille

Other usage[edit]

  • "K" replacing "C" in Satiric misspelling
  • K is the unit symbol for the Kelvin temperature scale.
  • K is the chemical symbol for the element potassium (K is an abbreviation of kalium, the Latin name for potassium).
  • Triangle K
  • Unit prefix
  • K is the name of the principal character in Kafka's novel The Trial
  • In chess notation, the letter K represents the King (WK for White King, BK for Black King).
  • In baseball scoring, the letter K is used to represent a strikeout. A forwards oriented K represents a "strikeout swinging"; a backwards oriented K (Backwards K.svg) represents a "strikeout looking".
  • As abbreviation for O.K., often used in emails and short text messages.
  • K is used as a slang term for Ketamine among recreational drug users.
  • In the CMYK color model, K represents black ink.


  1. ^ "K" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "kay," op. cit.
  2. ^ "K". The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1977, online(registration required) Archived June 26, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Cyrus H. Gordon: The Accidental Invention of the Phonemic Alphabet JSTOR 543451
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Stephen Phillips (2009-06-04). "International Morse Code". 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to K at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of K at Wiktionary
  • The dictionary definition of k at Wiktionary