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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 11th letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In English, the letter K usually represents the voiceless velar plosive; this sound is also transcribed by /k/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet and X-SAMPA. In English, the letter K is silent in initial position when followed by "n", for example "know" and "knight".

History and usage[edit]

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 chose C over K, and this influence carried over into Old English. Today, English is the only Germanic language to productively use hard C in addition to K (although Dutch uses it in learned words of Latin origin and follows the same hard/soft distinction in pronouncing such words as English).

Some English linguists prefer to reverse the Latin transliteration process for proper names in Greek, spelling Hecate as "Hekate", for example. And the writing down of languages that do not have their own alphabet with the Latin one has resulted in a standardization of the letter for this sound, as in 'Kwakiutl'.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, [k] is the symbol for the voiceless velar plosive.

К is the 11th letter of the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Several other alphabets use characters with sharp angles to indicate the sound /k/ or syllables that start with a /k/, for example: Arabic 'ك', Hebrew 'כ' or 'ק', Korean 'ㄱ'. This kind of phonetic-visual association was studied by Wolfgang Köhler. However, there are also many examples of rounded letters for /k/, like 'క' in Telugu, 'ก' and 'ค' in Thai, 'Ք' in Armenian, 'ክ' in Geez, and 'C' in Latin.

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 letters and other similar characters[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 represents a "strikeout looking".
  • As abbreviation for O.K., often used in emails and short text messages.
  • The letter K is the symbol in Major League Baseball and in other leagues around North America for a Strikeout.


  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