Word of the Day



a set of letters in a particular order that are used for writing a language

Origin and usage

The word alphabet comes from the Greek word ‘alphabētos’, a combination of ‘alpha’ meaning ‘the beginning’, and ‘beta’ meaning ‘the second of many things’. Its use to describe a set of letters is from the 1570s although it had been used from the early 15th century to refer to something learned through reading.


Alphabet refers to a series of letters arranged in a specific order that are used for reading and writing a language. Each language has its own alphabet, yet many languages share parts of a single letter writing system. There are more than 3,800 languages on Earth that use an alphabet.

Of all the languages in the world, most can be included in one of the following alphabet systems:

• Latin alphabet: used in many Western countries, English-speaking nations and a host of other languages around the world
• Cyrillic alphabet: used in Russian and Slavic languages
• Greek alphabet
• Arabic alphabet
• Hebrew alphabet
• Devanagari alphabet: used in Indian languages

Some ancient alphabets, like Egyptian hieroglyphs and other early languages, relied not on a series of letters but on pictures and symbols. These were arranged in a certain order to tell stories, compose messages, decorate homes and objects, and express meaning. Each symbol in the alphabet represented a word, phrase or idea that others could easily understand.


“I didn’t learn the alphabet until I was 11.”

(Roger Moore)

“Human society, the world, and the whole of mankind is to be found in the alphabet.”

(Victor Hugo)

“Blessings be the inventor of the alphabet, pen and printing press! Life would be – to me in all events – a terrible thing without books.”

(Lucy Maud Montgomery)

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary is an award-winning, one-stop reference for English learners and speakers around the world.

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