The letters "E" and "É" occur in English, French, Hungarian, Icelandic, and other languages. However, the Hungarian and Icelandic alphabets include both "E" and "É", but the English and French ones only have "E".

The letter "é" is widely used in French (e.g. clé, idée) and is also part of the English orthography (e.g. fiancée, Beyoncé, Pokémon). Why wouldn't it be "its own letter" in these alphabets?

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    That's just a convention, nothing else, the same reason why the apostrophe is not a part of the English alphabet, although it's used in writing words. The answer that's because the apostrophe has no sound of its own isn't satisfactory, because in the Russian alphabet there's the letter <ъ> ‘hard sign’ that has no sound of its own, either. Moreover, from 1918 to 1950s the apostrophe was used instead of the hard sign. Just a convention.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 20, 2021 at 9:02
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    Additionally, the ampersand & was a part of the alphabet as learnt by 19th-century schoolchildren in Britain and the US. The English alphabet thus had 27 letters.
    – Michaelyus
    Sep 20, 2021 at 9:16
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    While the details of language are all abritrary, all of writing - script. word division, spelling, punctuation - is arbitrary in a different way (because they were all invented and always have to be learnt) and secondary properties like alphabetisation (which is what your question is about) have yet another level of arbitrariness.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 20, 2021 at 14:54
  • @ColinFine in conclusion, everything in language besides intelligibility between speakers is arbitrary with varyïng degrees of arbitrariness. Very nice. Sep 20, 2021 at 16:43
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    @TKR Alphabetisation would be different, for one thing. In French, you alphabetise école / elle / être / événement, whereas in Icelandic you alphabetise edda / ef / eiga / enn / ég / él / ét. Sep 21, 2021 at 20:46

1 Answer 1


What counts as a letter is a matter of convention. In some languages, letters with diacritics are not considered separate letters, whilst in others, they are. Some languages even consider some separate letters and others not (e.g. in Spanish ñ is considered a separate letter, but á é í ó ú ü are not).

In some languages, some digraphs are even considered separate letters (e.g. in Welsh, ch dd ff ng ll ph rh & th are considered separate letters, and Hungarian goes even further, considering the trigraph dzs as a separate letter).

Romance languages tend not to consider vowels with diacritics separate letters, whilst Germanic languages usually do. As English derives its alphabet from the Old French alphabet, it makes sense that it would follow Romance norms here (also note that vowel diacritics are pretty uniformly optional in English, although for proper nouns they are usually preferred). Hungarian, and also Slavic Latin alphabets are largely based on the German alphabet (with heavy alteration for the differing phonology), and so follow the Germanic norm.

It's also worth noting that before the modern era, the alphabet was much less fixed than it is today, and many glyphs we would now consider punctuation were often included e.g. Tironian et ⁊ and the ampersand & (which derives its name from the phrase "and, per se, and" which is how it was usually named when it was placed at the end of an abecedary).

So to sum up, the reason for this difference is historical accident.

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    To add to the confusion: In German, ä, ö, ü, and ß are "second-class letters". When Germans spells "über", they treat "ü" as a separate letter: They say "ü be e er", never "u mit umlaut be e er" or something like that. Still, ä, ö, ü, and ß are not considered separate letters when sorting: "ü" is either sorted like "u" (dictionary order) or like "ue" (phone book order), but never betwen "u" and "v". German Scrabble games include tiles for ä, ö, and ü (but not ß!), but German crossword puzzles tend to replace them by "ae", "oe", "ue" (never by "a", "o", "u").
    – Uwe
    Sep 24, 2021 at 19:26

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