From Academic Kids

The Eszett (IPA ) in German or scharfes S (sharp S) if spelled out — is a letter used only in the German alphabet. It alternates with ss under certain conditions, and it is replaced by ss when there is no available. is nearly unique among the letters of Western alphabet in that it has no upper case form since it never occurs initially (one of the few other examples is kra, used in Greenlandic).



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origins of the ligature

There are two different origins of the ligature :

  • Ligatur ſs: a ligature of long s (ſ, looks like an f without bar) and (normal) round s.
  • Ligatur ſz: a ligature of ſ and z.

The ligature of long ſ and round s was used in antiqua typefaces, for instance in English or French. It fell into disuse when the long ſ was abandoned in the 18th century.

In German blackletter typefaces, the ligature of long ſ and z was used since the Middle Ages. In the High German consonant shift, Germanic [t] became [s] or [ts]. At first, both were spelled zz, but soon, they were differentiated as ſz and tz. Originally, that s-sound was different from the old Germanic s-sound, but this difference was lost in the Middle Ages. Therefore, the spellings ſz and ss became confused. The modern distinction between the two spellings emerged after many centuries. Until the German spelling reform of 1901, the use varied from region to region.

The usual typeface for German was blackletter. In the late 18th and early 19th century, when more and more German texts were printed in antiqua, the typesetter looked for an antiqua counterpart of the blackletter ſz ligature because they wanted to preserve the common distinction between ſz and ss. The preservation of this difference in antiqua typefaces became obligatory with the German spelling reform of 1996.

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different forms of antiqua

There have been four different typographical solutions for the form of the antiqua :

  1. letter combination ſs (not as a ligature, but as a single type),
  2. ligature of ſ and s,
  3. ligature of ſ and a kind of blackletter z (blackletter z looks similar to a "3"; this solution is closest to the original blackletter ligature),
  4. a ligature ſ and a kind of 3 so that the ligature resembles a Greek β (a compromise of the second and the third solution).
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The 3rd solution of on a Berlin street sign (Petersburger Strae). The sign on the right ("Bersarinplatz") ends with a tz-ligature.

Currently, most antiqua are shaped according to the second or the fourth solution. The third solution is seldomly found, and the first has fallen into disuse.

The typographer Jan Tschichold claimed that the German blackletter originated as a ligature of ſ and s. His view is widespread, even though historical linguists say that there's no argument to support it. Tschichold's claim is based on a picture drawn by himself that shows how ſ and s melt together in blackletter, and on a reference to the ſs-ligature in antiqua. A historical specimen of the former has never been found, and the latter is true, but pointless.


In today's German orthography, ߔ is used to denote a voiceless s (IPA sound ) at the beginning of a syllable (e.g. Stra-e (= street)) or after a long vowel if other words of the family have it (e.g., es fliet (it flows) because of flie-en (to flow)) whereas ss is used if the s sound belongs to two syllables (e.g., ge-flos-sen (floated, past participle)) or after a short vowel if other words of the family use a double s (e.g., es floss (it floated)).

Older usages and spelling reform

Before the German spelling reform of 1996, there was an additional rule that ss could only be used if bridging two syllables and must otherwise be replaced by ߔ, even if it follows a short vowel. As a result, floss was formerly spelled flo.

The spelling reform also affected place names, e.g. "Ruland" (Russia) became "Russland" and "Preburg" (Bratislava) became "Pressburg".

Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Switzerland and Liechtenstein officially abolished the use of "" in the 1930s: in schools, correspondence or newspapers, "" is not used. Major Swiss publishing houses for books still use it since they address the entire German speaking market.

Replacement and all-upper-case

If no is available, ss is used instead. This ss may be hyphenated (e.g. Stras-se 'street'; compare Stra-e).

If entire words are capitalized, SS is used (e.g. STRASSE). Excepted are legal documents, where capitalized names may retain an to prevent ambiguity, e.g., HANS STRAER.

In the old orthography, the Duden encouraged the use of "SZ" in cases where "SS" would produce an ambiguous result, as with "IN MASZEN" (in limited amounts; "Ma"=measure) vs. "IN MASSEN" (in massive amounts; "Masse"=mass).

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upper case in the 1957 Duden of Leipzig

There have been repeated attempts to introduce an upper case . One of the best known examples is the Eastern German 1957 Duden. A recent proposal to the unicode consortium for capital double s by Anreas Sttzner was rejected in 2004, on the basis that capital is a typographical issue, and therefore not suitable for character encoding.

ß and β

"" should not be confused with the lowercase Greek letter beta ("β"), which it closely resembles, particularly to the eyes of non-German readers, but to which it is unrelated. Indeed the resemblance is not close enough to enable substitution of the one with the other in typeset material without the result looking extremely unprofessional, comparable to substituting lowercase Greek letter omega ("ω") for "w" in English text. Any typeset material should use the ; where that letter is unavailable, the substitution "ss" for "" is correct.

The differences between "" and "β" in most typefaces are

  • β reaches below the line while does not.
  • β connects the vertical part on the left with the end of the horizontal near the bottom; does not.
  • β uses Greek rules of stroke thickness (slanted strokes are thinnest), uses Latin rules (horizontal strokes are thinnest).

However, such substitution once was common when describing beta test versions of application programs for older operating systems, such as classic Mac OS, whose character encodings did not support easy use of Greek letters. Also, the original IBM DOS codepage, CP437 (aka OEM-US), conflates the two characters, assigning them the same codepoint (0xE1) and a glyph that minimises their differences.

Also note that in German handwriting, the is written very similar to β, reaching below the line.


When ordering German words alphabetically, the collation rules say that "" should be treated as if it were a double "s". So, for example: "Ru" < "Russe" < "ruen" < "Russland". Some people sort "ß" like a single "s" but this is not recommended.

The is also used by some in romanizing the Sumerian language, in which it represented sh. Some Sumerian scholars use sz or $ instead.

The character is popular in Hungarian "text speak" used with mobile phones, replacing the grapheme sz, thus using one letter fewer in the SMS. Many Swiss Germans also use it for any ss in SMS.

The HTML entity for "ß" is &szlig;. Its codepoint in the ISO 8859 character encoding versions 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 and identically in Unicode is 223, or DF in hexadecimal.

On Windows computers with an American keyboard, the can be typed by holding Alt, typing either +00DF, 0223, or 225 on the right number pad, and then releasing alt (the latter two depend on the selected input language and on the code page). On Macintosh computers with an American keyboard, the can be typed by holding Option [Alt] and pressing the "s" key.


Latin alphabet: Aa | Bb | Cc | Dd | Ee | Ff | Gg | Hh | Ii | Jj | Kk | Ll | Mm | Nn | Oo | Pp | Qq | Rr | Ss | Tt | Uu | Vv | Ww | Xx | Yy | Zz
Modified characters:

| | | | | Āā | Ąą | | Ĉĉ | Čč | Ćć | Đđ | Ęę | | Ĝĝ | Ğğ | Ĥĥ | Įį | | İı | Ĵĵ | Łł | | | | Őő | | Ǫǫ | Şş | Șș | Šš | Ŝŝ | Țț | Ŭŭ | | Ųų | Ůů | Űű | Žž

Alphabet extensions: | | DZdz | DŽdž | Əə | Ȝȝ | Ƕƕ | ĸ | LJlj | LLll | NJnj | Ŋŋ | Œœ | Ȣȣ | [[Half r|]] | ſ | | | Ƿƿ | IJij

de: es: eo: fr: nl:Ringel-S id: ja: pt:Eszett fi:


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