Bartholomew the Englishman

On the Asp

The Straight s, Its Round cousin, and Its Ligatures

One aspect of reading medieval manuscripts that can be challenging is getting used to reading straight s as well as round s.

Straight s and round s have the same meaning; there is nothing special about words containing straight s as opposed to round s. But the two graphs tend to be used in different positions in the word.

graph: form of a letter
  • Straight s begins lowercase words in standard Gothic textualis.
  • Round s in the initial position is usually a sign that the manuscript was written by an English scribe.
  • Straight s is almost always used in the middle of words.
  • Rounds s is most commonly found at the end of words.
  • Trailing s, a narrow, elongated round s that dips below the baseline, appears at the end of words.
  • Majuscule s (capital s) resembles a round s, not a straight s.

Which word(s) end(s) with round s?

Which word(s) contain(s) a straight s somewhere in the middle?

Which word(s) contain(s) a majuscule s?

How many straight s's are in the example below?

Decide whether each word begins with straight s or with f.

straight sf
straight sf
straight sf
straight sf
straight sf
straight sf

The straight s is sometimes connected to the letter that follows it, forming a ligature. Today ligatures are rare, but you occasionally do see them. For example, most typefaces use an fi ligature.


Very common in Gothic textualis and in other medieval scripts was the st ligature.

Much rarer was the sc ligature usually seen only in English manuscripts.


Read some words with ligatures:

Challenge! Decipher the mystery word in the sentence below.

As you know by now, figuring out whether you are looking at a straight s or an f can be hard.  Often you have to understand the meaning of the sentence to determine the correct reading.  For example, is the green word the verb  'sint' or 'fuit'?  Understanding the sentence will help you decide.

for help, look at this


Parker Library images from MS. 16 used with permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

University of Erfurt, Germany, Amploniana Q.290, used with permission.

University of Victoria, BC, Bartholomaeus Anglicus 84-61, used with permission from the Department of Special Collections.