Now cross-posted to Graphic Design SE, as per the discussion in chat.

Oxia (Q on English keyboard) to the left, tonos (semicolon on English keyboard) to the right.

In the question ‘What is the difference between the accent on q and the accent on semicolon?’, Joonas Ilmavirta suggested I ask a new question concerning the different design of the old and new accent. For some reason, they chose to design the tonos (modern Greek, right in the image) different from the oxia (Ancient Greek, left in the image). In most fonts, there is verily no difference at all, but in some (I would assume those with a longer tradition, such as Garamond), the difference is quite pronounced; as demonstrated in the post referenced, the Ancient Greek accents mirror each other, whilst the tonos has a steeper angle than the ancient oxia. As Ilmavirta commented, modern Greek is off-topic, unless in relation to Ancient Greek, and therefore my question is concerning the development from Ancient to modern Greek. Especially considering the transition from Ancient to modern Greek grammar and typography, why are these symbols different from each other? How did the oxia develop into the tonos?

  • @CannedMan While this is a borderline case, I actually think you'd have better luck elsewhere. Not really sure where, though!
    – cmw
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:59
  • 2
    I'm not an expert on typography, but I would imagine the core reason is that the polytonic oxia needs to be easily distinguishable from its mirror image, while the monotonic tonos doesn't.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 1:04
  • 2
    This may be helpful (or not): discussions.apple.com/thread/3024808 Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:41
  • Interesting question! However, when I was looking into it now, it seems to me that it is in fact unrelated to Ancient Greek, as the replacement of polytonic orthography with monotonic occurred in the 20th century. I posted an answer to your question on the Graphic Design site; perhaps this question should be closed?
    – Asteroides
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 0:53
  • 1
    @Asteroides You could probably just post that answer here, too. As I mentioned under Draconis' answer, it's not like the population of each site is equivalent.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 1:06

1 Answer 1


I don't have an authoritative source for this (I'm just drawing on my own experience), but given that this has gone several months without answers, I'll offer what I can.

The fundamental difference between the tonos and the oxia, in usage, is that the oxia contrasts with other accents while the tonos doesn't. Both of them mark the position of the accent in the word, but the oxia (aka acute) contrasts with the baria (aka grave) and perispomene (aka circumflex). This puts various design constraints on it—for example, it needs to be easily distinguishable from its mirror image, which means it can't be too vertical.

The tonos, on the other hand, doesn't have these design constraints. I've seen fonts before where it's completely vertical, like a ꞌ over the vowel. And that works just fine, since it doesn't need to contrast with anything else.

The designer of the font shown in your question presumably thought a more vertical (but still slightly angled) tonos looked better, from a typographical standpoint. Readability concerns forced the oxia to be somewhat flatter, but the tonos can be as sharp as the typographer wants it to be, and in this case, that ended up sharper than the oxia.

  • Asteroides just linked to his answer on the Graphic Design stack.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 1:01
  • @cmw Alas, I started writing this before that comment was posted. This answer is now somewhat redundant, since the same information is given on Graphic Design, but I'll leave it up here as long as the question is here too.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 1:02
  • 1
    I would say it's fine having both answers. I can't imagine the overlap between the two sites to be that great.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 1:04

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