8

In Italian, letters can be referred to using their noun. For example, when speaking of the letter M, I could say La lettera emme è l'undicesima lettera dell'alfabeto italiano. (that is, "M is the 11th letter of the Italian alphabet"), or simply Emme è l'undicesima lettera dell'alfabeto italiano.

What is the equivalent way to refer to a letter in English?

12

English doesn't name letters that way. In writing, you just use the letter itself, generally capitalized and often with quote marks around it. For example:

Some words that begin with 'M' are marriage, money, and military.

That said, each letter does have a characteristic way to say it, such as when you're reciting the alphabet.

A - ay
B - bee
C - see
D - dee
E - ee
F - eff
G - gee (with a soft g like in age)
H - aitch
I - eye
J - jay
K - kay
L - ell
M - em
N - en
O - oh
P - pee
Q - cue
R - are
S - ess
T - tee
U - you
V - vee
W - double you
X - ex
Y - why
Z - zee or zed

Mostly, these pronunciations are not written down, though you can use them to emphasize a sound rather than the symbol used to write it. For example:

Some words that begin with an 'em' sound are marriage, money, and military.

  • 1
    +1. But Bernard Shaw (who as you probably know wrote a good deal about language) actually did refer to the letters by their names: "A very vile jingle of esses", "This man takes more trouble to drop his aitches than ever his father did to pick them up. It's a mark of caste." This avoids the perennial problem of whether to write Ms, M's, ms or m's, and I think it's more readable and typographically more attractive. – StoneyB Jan 25 '13 at 17:01
  • 1
    Zee is American. Haitch is Irish (and, in Northern Ireland, the haitch/aitch distinction serves as a shibboleth between the Catholic and Protestant communities). – TRiG Feb 9 '13 at 1:22
5

Letters in English are simply referred to as their symbols. However they are typically written in single or double quotes. They are also capitalized.

'A' is the first letter of the alphabet.

Or

The first letter of the alphabet is "A".

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