In English, it's very common to talk about letters of the alphabet in the plural: he writes his R's backwards, for example, is a perfectly natural sentence. But the Latin names for the letters don't seem to follow any declension pattern.

If I wanted to pluralize (or more generally, decline) a letter name, how would I go about it? Are they indeclinable? y at least seems to be feminine.


I doubt that the letter names themselves were ever declined, but I expect that if the need arose, one could use litera in apposition, e.g. literae R. (I expect that's why you say "y at least seems to be feminine" - from an implicit litera assumed.)

P.S. I now see that W. Sidney Allen cites quite a few quotations in Appendix A of his Vox Latina. There seem to be usages of letters treated both as neuters and feminines (but I think mainly feminines). There's far too much there for me to type out by hand, but scanning the citations I see things like

u litteram digamma esse

u autem, quamuis contractum

e quae sequitur

inter litteram n et g est alia uis

r: non multum est

Maiiamque geminata i scribere

  • Entirely fair. I say y appears to be feminine because it's sometimes called y graeca, not e.g. y graecum. – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:30
  • Is this attested anywhere? – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:48
  • @Draconis I don't know; I was basing my answer on a reasonable supposition. – varro Oct 13 '18 at 15:54
  • Entirely fair, just curious. – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:55
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    @Draconis With respect to your remark about y graeca: one might compare this with its corresponding later Greek (Byzantine) name, υ ψιλόν / y-psilon, rather than (say) υ ψιλή, from an implied γράμμα. – varro Oct 13 '18 at 15:57

Some additional examples:

Nam ‘divus’ et ‘rivus’ et ‘clivus’ non ‘us’ syllaba terminantur, sed ea quae per duo u scribenda est ... (Gellius)

est tamen quando idem Aeolis inveniuntur pro duplici quoque consonante digamma posuisse (Prisc.)


In addition to the good suggestion to use littera together with the letter, you can also use a plain adjective, pronoun, or numeral when they are needed. That is, you could render "he writes his R's like so" as sua R scribit sic. If you want to have an implicit litteras, replace the neuter sua with suas. I would not decline the letter itself, as the names don't really conform with Latin declensions.

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    Is there any attestation of this showing e.g. which gender would be used? – Draconis Oct 13 '18 at 15:48
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    @Draconis There must be some attestations if you have no limits for how recent it can be. For me both neuter (no noun implied) or feminine (littera) make sense. – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 13 '18 at 18:14

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