How to write the Greek letter beta and the German letter eszett so that they look different enough?

I've seen variants of beta with the final arc ending on the vertical line and ones which have a break there. In eszett the break seems to be always present. Is that the easiest distinction to learn to apply consistently in handwriting? And if so, is it allowable (I know it's not hard science, but I'd like to know if, despite not widespread, it's attested in some fonts and people's handwriting and wouldn't raise many eyebrows) to cross the vertical line with the arc in beta?

1 Answer 1


There are at least 2 features of eszett that differ it from beta:

  • the short dash-like horizontal stroke protruding to the left from the vertical spine of eszett, which is never present in beta;
  • the curved conjunction of the top and bottom semicircles of eszett, while beta has the conjunction with a sharp angle.

Also, in regular type as opposed to italics, eszett usually sits on the line while beta has a tail hanging below the line, but in many fonts and in handwriting eszett has the tail, too, so this difference is not very reliable.

When German text contains Greek letters, sometimes a special 6-like shape of beta ϐ (shape 2 in the image) is used to tell beta from eszet.

Having eszett with the curved conjunction and with no tail below the line will suffice to tell it from beta with angular conjunction and the tail, not to say about having beta of shape 2.

As for the crossing or touching the bar, that is just individual, like flourishes, there can hardly be any tradition about it.

enter image description here

  • 5
    Zona’s eszett design is particularly problematic there, having both the descender and the sharp conjunction and looking, in isolation, more like a beta than an eszett. The only difference between eszett and beta in Zona seems to be that beta has two bowls (i.e., closed counters, with full contact between the stem and the conjunction and finial), whereas eszett has the open counter seen in the picture. Oct 12, 2021 at 9:13
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet I agree that, in isolation, Zona's eszett looks more like a beta than like an eszett. On the other hand, even if they looked identical (i.e., if Zona's beta had open counters as well), the context would in practice always make it clear which of the two letters is intended – just as the the context allows us to distinguish between H and Eta. In my handwriting, there is no difference between eszett and beta, and I use both letters frequently.
    – Uwe
    Oct 12, 2021 at 11:33
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    The similarity between æ and œ in many fonts also bugs me to no end.
    – Nardog
    Oct 12, 2021 at 12:44
  • @Nardog And the identity of œ and ɶ in Helvetica on macOS is positively inflammatory. Oct 13, 2021 at 23:45

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