I've noticed that many posters, advertisements, etc -- as well as many fonts -- use the lowercase letter "a" as shown in "figure 1". However, I've always hand-written it as what it looks like in "figure 2". Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that I almost never seen the second version in application. It doesn't seem to be a serif/sans issue, as I've seen plenty of sans serif fonts that use a variation of the first "a".

Is there a reason for this? Why are there two very-different versions of the same letter? Is there a reason why the first one is much more prevalent in fonts and graphic-applications?

two ways of writing the letter "a"

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    To complicate matters, many (especially classic) serif typeface have a two-story lowercase a for roman, and a single-story one for italic.
    – Vincent
    Nov 12, 2014 at 16:42
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    Thank you, @Vincent, that's the vocabulary I was looking for. It covers the lowercase "g" as well. Still not sure why the two-story version of the "a" is so much more prevalent. I've heard claims that serif-fonts are easier to read, but there are serif one-story "a"s too... Nov 12, 2014 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


Historically, the single storey a was the italics version, as it more emulated handwriting.

Many geometric sans faces also adopted the single storey version.

But there's no hard-and-fast rule one way or the other. Both are acceptable glyphs.

  • 1
    +1, but handwriting is getting a little too broad. The single-story emulated chancery cursive (as did Aldus Manutius and company when creating italics), which got its a in descent from later versions of Carolingian minuscule, but most lettering hands used the form that came down through half-uncials (which eventually twisted around to give us the two-story Platonic essence of "a"). Both shapes come to us from handwriting. Nov 13, 2014 at 22:06
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    Thank you,@DA01, but does that explain why the double story "a" happens to be so much more prevelant than the single story? Nov 20, 2014 at 5:05
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    @sharedphysics I'm not sure that it's more prevalent (or less) in general. If you go to myFonts and look at the most popular, it seems fairly evenly split. Either way, though, it's really just a preference by the type designer.
    – DA01
    Nov 20, 2014 at 6:49

It seems that single story "a"'s are rare in serif typefaces except for italic versions. Most sans serifs also use double story "a"'s except for geometric typefaces (which are usually used for display). At text sizes the single story "a" can appear too similar to an "o" and break the fluidity of reading.


I think it merely comes down to whatever UI font the OS chooses to use.

There's no specific reason one is used over the other except that's how the font designer chose to create the lowercase a.

You could just as easily ask why any character varies between fonts -- it was a choice of the designer.

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