Thorn or þorn (Þ, þ) is a letter in the Old English
, Old Norse
, Old Swedish
, and modern Icelandic alphabets
, as well as some dialects of Middle English
. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia
, but was later replaced with the digraph
,'' except in Iceland
, where it survives. The letter originated from the rune
in the Elder Fuþark
and was called ''thorn'' in the Anglo-Saxon and ''thorn'' or ''thurs
'' in the Scandinavian rune poem
s. It is similar in appearance to the archaic Greek letter sho (ϸ)
, although the two are historically unrelated.
It is pronounced as either a voiceless dental fricative
or the voiced counterpart of it
. However, in modern Icelandic, it is pronounced as a laminal voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative
[, cited in ]
similar to ''th'' as in the English
word ''thick'', or a (usually apical
) voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative
similar to ''th'' as in the English word ''the''. Modern Icelandic usage generally excludes the latter, which is instead represented with the letter ðæt
; however, may occur as an allophone
of , and written , when it appears in an unstressed pronoun or adverb after a voiced sound.
, the lowercase thorn character
is unusual in that it has both an ascender
and a descender
(other examples are lowercase Cyrillic ф
and in some fonts, the Latin letter f
The letter thorn was used for writing Old English
very early on, as was ð
, also called eth
. Unlike eth, thorn remained in common use through most of the Middle English
period. Both letters were used for the phoneme , sometimes by the same scribe. This sound was regularly realised in Old English
as the voiced fricative between voiced sounds, but either letter could be used to write it; the modern use of in phonetic alphabets
is not the same as the Old English orthographic use
. A thorn with the ascender
) was a popular abbreviation for the word ''that
Middle and Early Modern English
The modern digraph
''th'' began to grow in popularity during the 14th century; at the same time, the shape of ''Þ'' grew less distinctive, with the letter losing its ascender (becoming similar in appearance to the old wynn
(), which had fallen out of use by 1300, and to ancient through modern ''P'', ''p''). In some hands, such as that of the scribe of the unique mid-15th-century manuscript of ''The Boke of Margery Kempe
'', it ultimately became indistinguishable from the letter Y. By this stage, ''th'' was predominant and the use of ''Þ'' was largely restricted to certain common words and abbreviations. In William Caxton
's pioneering printed English, it is rare except in an abbreviation for "''the''", written as ''þe
''. This was the longest-lived use, though the substitution of Y for Þ soon became ubiquitous, leading to the common "''ye''", as in 'Ye Olde
Curiositie Shoppe'. One major reason for this was that Y existed in the printer's type fonts that were imported from Germany or Italy, while Þ did not. The word was never pronounced with a "y" sound, though, even when so written. The first printing of the King James Version of the Bible
in 1611 used ''ye
'' for "''the''" in places such as Job 1:9, John 15:1, and Romans 15:29. It also used ''yt
'' as an abbreviation for "''that''", in places such as 2 Corinthians 13:7. All were replaced in later printings by ''the'' or ''that'', respectively.
The following were abbreviations during Middle and Early Modern English using the letter thorn:
* – (''þͤ'') a Middle English abbreviation for the word ''the''
* – (''þͭ'') a Middle English abbreviation for the word ''that''
* – (''þͧ'') a rare Middle English abbreviation for the word ''thou
'' (which was written early on as ''þu'' or ''þou'')
* (''yᷤ'') an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word ''this''
* – (''yͤ'') an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word ''the''
* – (''yͭ'') an Early Modern English abbreviation for the word ''that''
Thorn in the form of a "Y" survives in pseudo-archaic uses, particularly the stock prefix
". The definite article
spelt with "Y" for thorn is often jocularly or mistakenly pronounced ("yee") or mistaken for the archaic nominative case
of the second person plural pronoun, "ye
", as in "hear ye!". In fact, the y in the pronoun would have been spelled with a yogh
, ''ȝe'', rather than a ''y''.
is the only living language to retain the letter thorn (in Icelandic; ''þ'', pronounced ''þoddn'', or ''þordn'' ). The letter is the 30th in the Icelandic alphabet
, modelled after Old Norse alphabet
in the 19th century; it is transliterated
to ''th'' when it cannot be reproduced and never appears at the end of a word. For example, the name of Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
d as Hafthor.
Its pronunciation has not varied much, but before the introduction of the eth
character, ''þ'' was used to represent the sound , as in the word "''verþa''", which is spelt ''verða'' (meaning "to become") in modern Icelandic or normalized orthography.
Þ was originally taken from the runic alphabet
and is described in the First Grammatical Treatise
from the 12th-century:
Upper- and lowercase versions of the thorn character, in _(left)_and_[[serif">sans-serif
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Various forms of thorn were used for medieval scribal abbreviation
* Pronunciation of English th
* Sho (letter)
, , a similar letter in the Greek alphabet used to write the Bactrian language
, , a letter used in Middle English and Older Scots
, , another Old English and Icelandic letter
* Freeborn, Dennis (1992) ''From Old English to Standard English''. London: Macmillan
Category:Old English language
Category:Middle English language
Category:Palaeographic letter variants