9

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"

  • 3
    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 '14 at 16:42
  • 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... – sharedphysics Nov 12 '14 at 17:01
5

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, 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. – Stan Rogers Nov 13 '14 at 22:06
  • Thank you,@DA01, but does that explain why the double story "a" happens to be so much more prevelant than the single story? – sharedphysics Nov 20 '14 at 5:05
  • @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 '14 at 6:49
1

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.

0

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.

protected by Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Aug 23 '15 at 0:01

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.