The long s

Did you know that just a few hundred years ago, there were two ways of writing the minuscule "s"?

Well, the s which we are used to today is known as the short s, and the one which we no longer use is, you guessed it, the long s. As its name implies, the long s is longer than the short s, and looks like ſ / ſ. Does this remind you of an integral sign? Well it is, since the integral sign is based on the latin word summa (sum), which was written as ſumma. (If you were wondering, integration actually calculates the area under a graph by summation of smaller blocks of areas)

While ſ denotes the Italic long s, older versions of ſ actually resembled an f, with the nub (the line that goes across) only of the left side.

long s in text

If you read this text as "Forty Thoufand Pounds for his Majefty's Service", you have stumbled upon one of the reasons for it's demise. An interesting point to note is that in this text, we have three forms of s: the majuscule S, the short s, and the long ſ.

So were there rules governing how the long ſ was to be used? Well, these are some examples:

  • s is used at the end of words (barnacles, wallflowers)
  • s is used before an apostrophe (curs'd)
  • s is used before or after the letter f (misfit, offset)
    • an exception is made when the word is hyphenated (miſ-fit, off-ſet)
  • s is used in compound words where the first word ends with a double s, and the second word begins with s (croſs-ſtitch, croſsſtitch)
  • s is used in compound words where the first word ends with an s (bird's-neſt)
  • ſ is used when it is the first letter of the word, or within a word, save the exceptions listed above
  • ſſ is used in earlier manuscripts, whereas ſs is used in later manuscripts for double s combinations (poſſeſs vs poſseſs)
  • ſb / ſk is used in earlier manuscripts, whereas sb / sk is used in later manuscripts

This list is not comprehensive, and there are variations and exceptions seen through the ages.


Blackletter Style Long s

Blackletter Style Long s


There are several instances of long s being used in George Bickham's engravings. However, through the book, we can see that long s is being used less frequently. This is an example of long s in copperplate:

Written by Yaki UJohn

Written by Yaki UJohn

It is quite common for copperplate calligraphers to write the long s as a variant of f. Care should be taken not to use ſ in place of f, as that makes no sense whatsoever.

Did you know that the German letter ß has its origins from the long s? It was originally written as ſz or ſs. Sweet.


Do try the long s in your own writing, and let me know how it goes! Love,

@YakiUjohn the Yaki Udon