You’ve Seen This Letter Everywhere, But Can You Write It?

By Lauren Sigfusson | April 4, 2018 4:09 pm
(Credit: Johns Hopkins University)

Which one is correct? (Credit: Johns Hopkins University)

Most of us learn the ABCs in our youth. We see and say the letters so many times they eventually become etched in our minds.

But researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered that many people don’t know what the most common lowercase print version of the seventh letter of the alphabet really is. Heck, some didn’t even know there were two types.

Can You Guess the Correct Version?

There are two ways people write the lowercase letter G. The looptail, which we tend to read because it’s used in easy-to-read fonts like Times New Roman, Cambria and Calibri, and in most printed and typed material. The second is the opentail, which is the one we tend to write.

Go back to the top photo: Can you determine the correct looptail?

If you’re like me, you stared at the picture for quite some time and decided in a way they all look weird. But the second one, labeled 2, is correct. Props to those who answered without Google or scrollin’ the article for the answer. In the study, less than a third of 25 participants chose correctly.

Researchers also asked 38 adults to name letters that have two lowercase print forms. Two said G, while just one could write it correctly. Another 16 people had to read text, say the words that included the looptails aloud and then write the G they saw. Half wrote the opentail, while the rest tried to write the looptail — all but one failed to do so.

“They don’t entirely know what this letter looks like, even though they can read it,” said co-author Gali Ellenblum in a news release. She points out that this isn’t the case for most other letters.

The team also studied the two lowercase print versions of the letter A. But most people wrote the correct type and everyone selected the accurate shape. Some didn’t know there were lowercase versions of A, but it was less frequent than with G.

So even if we look at a shape a lot, like as we read, we might not actually learn the shape. Michael McCloskey, senior author of the study, said he and his team think we learn the shapes of most letters in part because we have to write them in school. While the looptail version isn’t instructed so we might not remember the shape as well.

The study was released Tuesday in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance.

Editor’s note: I tried really hard not to use the lowercase version of the letter in question because Discover’s font shows the answer. Did you answer correctly or incorrectly all on your own? Did you scroll the article to find the answer? Let me know in the comments below.

A previous version said “sixth” letter, it has been updated to say “seventh”.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: memory & learning
  • Lee Rudolph

    I got it correct and essentially instantaneously. But I’m 70 years old, and between the ages of (approximately) 10 and 30-odd I did a lot of “lettering” (for signs and posters) by hand (towards the end of that period, I began to use the now-obsolete LetraSet; for decades now, of course, computer programs have replaced pens and pencils and markers—and LetraSet—except in some artistic applications, and certainly in my life). Lettering was actually part of the curriculum in Mechanical Drawing, one of the four semester-long required “shop” classes (for boys only…) that I took in 7th and 8th grade; another of those classes was Printing (with cold metal type—by 1970, when I was one of 7 founders of a “small press” that is still going today, with a backlist of several hundred books, offset had rendered that technology obsolete too (again, with the exception of “art” printing; we were putting all our art into content and layout, and had no desire to work with hot or cold metal), and is now obsolete in its turn. Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis (“have the mutant-eel tempura, it’s the house special”).

    • TLongmire

      Gee is an obvious question so it should be the most confounding of the all

      • OWilson

        Gee is an exclamation, not a question! :)

    • OWilson

      I have always admired draftsmen and architects who could do that wonderful freehand lettering on their drawings, along with pub blackboard pastel signwriters, and of course, that comic panel balloon text. So natural and consistent.

      Like the music which I love, I never acquired the talent.

      I did, however, get the correct g almost immediately.

      On another note, to me the purest, most beautiful font is the Microsoft font on the Welcome screen. Rare perfection from the MS crowd! :)

    • Dave Downunder

      Right then, I’ll have the special & a glass of Ovid, it’s time for a change.

    • teknowh0re

      Im 34 and I guessed it. But using deductive reasoning ; )

    • John I. Clark

      Letraset, yes! I discovered it in college (and I simultaneously fell in love with the venerable Korinna Extra Bold.) 😊

  • Mike Cargal

    So, how many people are confused about it’s ordinal position in the alphabet? 😉

    • Zahara Charles

      Yes its confusing – Like the use of the apostrophe?

      • teknowh0re

        Hahaha cmon it’s just an apostrophe

      • teknowh0re

        Cant really fault people online about this folly consudering autocorrect…its becoming ever increasingly common to ignore little things like that, so long as your point is getting across. And thats the purpose of communication, right?

      • Mike Cargal

        I do suspect auto-correct, as I don’t know why I would have gone out of my way to add the apostrophe (and do know the difference).

        That said… touché, well played.

    • teknowh0re

      Why is that confusing? This is looking at English language, and Im guessing specifically American English, where there is ONLY a, b, c, d, e, f, g…no extra letters with special characters. So it shouldnt be confusing which letter is 7th.
      Diacritics are almost NEVER used in actual writing practice by Americans. Im not sure how often Brits use them..
      But Americans, you’ll find almost zero people ever use them, even in typing, unless using a font that includes them. Formally, there are a few words that retain them, but no one really uses them. Most loan words lost their marks.
      Publications that take great care to preserve cultural and linguistic authenticity, and out of respect to the language, continue to use them regularly but only in words where they are deemed necessary and they have rules by which they decide if it should be. Usually only in quotes, proper nouns, or words borrowed from a language that requires accent characters being used in to immerse the reader in the world of the subject.

      • Mike Cargal

        My comment doesn’t make sense anymore as the article has been corrected. It originally referred to ‘g’ as the 6th letter of the alphabet. I’d normally let it slide, but since the article was about noticing the little details, it was too tempting to pass up.

        • teknowh0re

          I find that hard to believe. Why would any article here state “g” as the 6th letter? No editing whatsoever? My daughter would notice that at age 7. If thats true, SHAME on them.

          • John I. Clark

            Have you *still* not seen the editor’s note that says the article originally said ‘6th’, but has been corrected? 😜

          • teknowh0re

            Im not saying “i find it hard to believe” as in “you all are filthy liars and i dont believe it!”.
            I was implying I find it hard to believe they would make such a mistake, and that there must have been a reasonable explanation, because editors exist. =P

          • John I. Clark

            I agree, it’s hard to imagine how that could happen, but it’s also not that unusual to see obvious mistakes in “print” these days, that you’d think an editor would catch, right?

            Funny comment thread, aside from the trolls!

            Have a great rest of your week!

          • teknowh0re

            You as well.

          • teknowh0re

            And fyi, no i still didnt actually look at it when you wrote that.I took their word for it until just now.
            I was busy replying to a troll below who implied Im “illiterate” because I dont bother to add apostrophes to contractions and periods to the term “U.S.”
            Typical Monday.

  • Uncle Al

    “”asked 38 adults to name letters The Los Angeles Unified School District has 700,000 students. Try finding some who can read.

    • teknowh0re

      Good freakin luck finding them. When I first moved to the L.A. area I was absolutely ASTONISHED at the ignorance of average people here. I mean shocked. Most people Ive met cant even name half the states in the US, and (im not joking) many cant name the months of the year in order.
      And Im from KENTUCKY!

      • Leslie Kaminoff

        If you’re going criticize the literacy of other people, perhaps you should spellcheck your own comment for punctuation and capitalization.

        • teknowh0re

          If youre going to attempt to make me look bad, you need to find something Im actually failing at. Because obviously I have NO idea how to spell or punctuate a sentence. Yes, that must be it. I just dont know how to. Great intuition, Leslie!

          Its not their literacy that is pathetic. Its not particular knowledge, its the average persons ability to reason and understand. I just gave the first 2 examples that came to mind.
          I have lived here for 10 years. Thats a decent sample.

        • Steven

          I think Leslie has a point.

          • teknowh0re

            Im not surprised.

          • Leslie Kaminoff

            Since you asked me to point out something you’ve failed at, here it is: you have failed at being clever enough to simply go back and edit your original comment by correcting your punctuation and capitalization. That would have made me look like a total jerk.

          • teknowh0re

            Leslie….you failed again.
            Why would I go back and edit something Im writing paragraphs about being unnecessary?
            I have told you repeatedly why I didnt use them. Editing is for mistakes. I didnt make a mistake, I purposely didnt use the punctuation. Which was really the whole point, you seemed to have missed it. The point: illiterate does not apply to someone who makes a conscious choice not to use something. There are celebrated writers who dont use contraction apostrophes either. Illiterate is a term you use to describe a person who is ignorant to the rules, who cannot read and write, or who has no knowledge of a subject. See the point yet?

            Did you not catch that in my long repeated comments about contraction apostrophes not being necessary? Or did you even read my responses?
            You are really bad at this.

          • clauclauclaudia

            And what about capitalization?

          • teknowh0re

            There is only 1, and that shouldnt really be considered an ignorant mistake either, since its obvious by now I know how to use capitalization. Did you read my sentence the same either way?
            This entire discussion centered around illiteracy- meaning unable to read or write. Im certain every single person commenting has posted a sentence that had “mistakes” in it. Does that make everyone here illiterate? Hardly.

            I make a point to differentiate between obvious finger slips and genuine ignorance, and I expect others to as well.

          • Rob Neff

            Wow, some people are really, really sensitive. Leslie had a valid point and you go ballistic.

          • teknowh0re

            Lol Leslie when are you going to come to the realization that I dont bother with apostrophes (or the periods in US) by CHOICE.
            Do you understand the difference between ignorance of a thing, and choosing not to do a thing?

            Again, what you said is like saying a pilot doesnt know how to fly because he is driving a car.

          • teknowh0re

            Nothing in my comment that had punctuation marks left out causes any reduction in meaning or context or anything else.
            My comment was about peoples intellect here, not their ability to use punctuation. Its a pathetic attempt at an insult that many people use online, particularly since everything is accessed via mobile and autocorrect often leads to mistakes. Those, and my “mistakes” are not mistakes- they are left out intentionally, or done without the writers awareness in the case of autocorrect. Therefore, Leslie’s point is moot.

          • 程肯

            Actually, leaving out punctuation changes readability, which does indeed affect meaning and context.

          • teknowh0re

            Actually, only in certain instances, none of which are part of THIS example. Maybe before commenting randomly, read the entire relevant thread.
            Obviously -some- punctuation changes meaning. If you had bothered to know what I said in entirety, you would notice I said “in my comment” “leaving punctuation out did not/doesnt change any of the meaning”

            Thanks for playing.

          • 程肯

            Uhm, sure.

          • teknowh0re

            Context is important also for you, when randomly interjecting without any. Have some:
            The punctuation I left out was only apostrophes, and two periods after “U” and “S”. Try actually looking at the comment in question.

            It was not commas that were left out, or anything else that changes meaning. Implying someone is illiterate because they chose not to bother with apostrophes where they are unnecessary, is like implying someone is poor because they chose not to buy something.

          • teknowh0re

            Had I mispelled words that matter (or at all), or were it apparent that I could be illiterate, he would have a point. But there is no evidence of illiteracy there or here- only evidence of a person not using punctuation. The grammar is on point, spelling is on point, and general coherence is obvious. If he wants to make an intuitive, astute comment about the underlying psychology behind my comment, I would have little to argue there probably. But what he did say, is just juvenile and inept, tbh.

          • teknowh0re

            You know….there are alot of people who agree with me about apostrophes- including grammarians and experts.
            In addition to that, you can find quite a few publications talking about the death of the apostrophe, and how its being slowly removed from our language.

            Apostrophes werent even used commonly until the 1800s or on, and plenty agree they are superfluous.

  • Craig Piercy

    I generally write the 6th letter of the alphabet as an f.

    • JohnnyMorales

      she was just admitting she didn’t actually ever learn the alphabet, but didn’t want to be too obvious about it. 😉

      Then again maybe she starts counting with zero…

    • Marek

      Really? In my opinion the 6th letter is: a, ą, b, c, ć, D, e, ę, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ł…

      • Craig Piercy

        At least the graphic fits one of those languages :-)

        • Lascurettes

          Perhaps you missed the Editor’s Note at the bottom:

          A previous version said “sixth” letter, it has been updated to say “seventh”.

    • Dana

      The article says “seventh letter” but thanks for the pointlessness.

      • Lascurettes

        Perhaps you missed the Editor’s Note at the bottom:
        “A previous version said ‘sixth’ letter, it has been updated to say ‘seventh’.”

      • Michael Meyers

        As it says above, “A previous version said “sixth” letter, it has been updated to say “seventh”.”, but thanks for the snark.

      • Craig Piercy

        Note the editor’s note: “A previous version said “sixth” letter, it has been updated to say “seventh”.”

        So, you’re welcome :-)

        • teknowh0re

          Im going to guess that less than 50% of readers continued to the editors notes.

          • Craig Piercy

            Part of the reason that actual “fake news” spreads. People fail to completely read and even think about what is written.

          • davebarnes

            Fewer, not less.
            Less only works if you put one or more readers in a blender and then continue to count them in the subject population.

            My guess is that you are a BlendTec salesrep.

  • Ken_g6

    I would say #4 is correct, because that’s closest to how I write a lower-case “g”. I learned “denelian” printing, which is writing cursive letters one at a time. You write a “g” by writing a “9”, and looping back at the end. Did you know “9”s should have a point at the upper-right? Some people say my “9”s look like “4”s, which is absurd. “4”s should have an open top. (And now it’s the end and I’ve looped back.)

    • Dana

      It’s #2.

    • teknowh0re

      Its not about what looks closest to what you write, its about which is correct. 2.

    • teknowh0re

      This isnt cursive in the article. Its print believe it or not, and all of us learned cursive letters by themselves and together in words. Thats how you practice them, stand alone. Thats not relevant here.
      Youre right, it doesnt make sense for the downstroke of the “g” to be on the left side, but I knew which was correct immediately. Not because we write that way but because I have seen it since childhood.

      And yes, I did know 9s should have a point at top right. There are 2 ways people learn to write numbers- some with the 4 open, but others including myself learn to write it just like this- 4.
      And my 9s? They dont look like “9”.
      My 9 begins with the “o” loop, and then at a point, the downstroke. Im not sure if there is one “correct” way. Is there?

      • msbook

        as I mentioned in an earlier comment to you, cursive IS relevant here because we learn a language by generalizing. It’s a classic forest and trees problem. You know that the g in type looks a certain way, but do you see all the “g”s in you life?

        • teknowh0re

          I feel like you missed the part where I said that “i knew which was correct right away not because of intuition or generalization, but because i have seen it that way”

          How is it relevant?
          The entire “study” (if we can call it that) centered on asking people to recognize print. How is generalization connected to cursive? You shouldn’t make generalizations about print writing by correlating it with cursive. Cursive letters look nothing like print in many cases.
          Also, just because you make certain generalizations, and patterns appear one way to you, does not mean they appear that way to another person. For example, if what you said were true, EVERYONE would have made that generalization and based their guess on the cursive “g” they learned, wouldnt they?
          The study was about the fact that people have no problem remembering all the other print characters, but seem to be unfamiliar in particular with g.

          Im not trying to argue, im genuinely trying to understand you, or get you to elaborate. I spend my free time studying physics, not language.

          We learn a language by generalizing, right… But, this is character writing. This is not language patterns, this is learning the physical structure of how to write letters.
          So you are saying that learning physical orthography/letters happens via generalization too? How is that? English has a very scattered, irregular orthography though…so how can the physical structure of letters be generalized? Especially from cursive? I understand how spoken language uses generalization, but not written letters, standing alone? Words, sure. Spelling, sure. Single letters? Explain?

          • msbook

            I can understand your confusion because I think it is the same confusion of the researchers. They made an assumption, “Knowledge of letter shapes is central to reading” that they took literally. The truth is that all of us recognize all four examples as lowercase “g”. In fact, the researchers did not indicate a particular font or form, but created a serif hybrid in four forms. The sans serif form of “g” is basically a block-letter version, and a cursive version yet another form. We make passwords that can substitute a “9” for a “g” and we understand that the password spelled (e.g. 9oo9le) is a recognizable word or sound.

            The researchers were not specific in how knowledge of letter shapes is central to reading. You can understand my quirky handwriting, someone’s carefully hand-lettered words, and typeset words in a variety of fonts and sizes, and the direction of closure or the shape of the form is usually the least influential on reading. We also understand text even when someone spells something wrong, or omits or substitutes letters, or deliberately changes the order of letters.

            I’m not sure that the researchers can clearly explain what they were doing, and I’m not sure why this article’s author was so uncritical.

            I think it is admirable that you and a minority can recognize one serif printed form of a lowercase “g”, but I’m not sure what to conclude from that ability.

  • CarolAST

    I wish I could make a decent ampersand. And I wish there was a Unicode character for the “ct” they used in the old days.

    • Luis Alejandro Masanti

      Well, the ampersand is a ‘deformation’ of —as you said— ‘et.’ from French for ‘and.’ I think that Zapf Chancery, that came with Apple LaserWriter has this ‘et’ version of the ’&.’

      In the same as —some stories told— OK is a deformation of A.R, from All Right.

  • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

    I’ve seen this in a couple of places with “write” in the headline. The way I was taught to write I don’t think any of the the examples fit very well.

  • Maia

    Got it right off…by “feel”, not memory. Second one just felt right, the other three not. The g I learned to write was one this font uses: g, but with a full loop that crosses back over the tail.

    Curious about what you are looking for here when you ask for people to respond.

    • mainmac

      That would be by memory, just not as strong a recollection as being certain.

  • Dana

    Probably can be explained by the abysmally low number of people who bother reading anymore. Most print books still use that closed-loop g.

  • teknowh0re

    I knew it was 2. Isnt it obvious?

  • pvanb

    Didn’t need to guess. I used to write “g”s like this when I was younger to try and be “fancy.”

  • Peter Sgouros

    possibly worth noting that the lower case ‘s’ use to have two forms as well. the second looking a lot like a lower case ‘f’ but without the cross bar.

  • Willi Kampmann

    I hesitated between #2 and #3 for a short moment, but then chose the correct one. The flow of the archs makes more sense in #2 in my opinon. Maybe it’s just how I remember the letter best, but the ear of the body (which of course is on the right) kind of flows straight into the tail. It’s like an ø with an empty body and a squiggly line attached. However, one reason why I hesitated is because I noticed that #3 comes closest to the modern g: just straighten out the right part a bit, and open up the tail.

    I don’t kow why this form (still) exists, I assume it’s a relic. In German, there is the letter ß which is pronounced like a sharp s. Historically, it was constructed from that weird ancient f letter and an s or a z, and in most typefaces you can still see the origins, and actually recognize either the s or the z. So I guess the weird-g shows how the letter originally was invented.

  • Manqueman

    I’m so old that I knew the answer because I used to that version of the letter on occasion. So even though it’s been years, maybe decades since I last did so, muscle memory provided the answer.

  • Golan Klinger

    I got it instantly because I use the character to write my name.

  • fadi

    I got it right. It took me a while though. It was the direction of the ear that gave me the most trouble.

    • kubamyski

      fwrizk but

  • Frank Campagna

    Since I use the monospaced Courier typeface everyday in programming, I recognized the lowercase G pretty quickly.

  • Luis Alejandro Masanti

    The symbols that we recognize as letters are totally arbitrary and we learnt them as abstractions.
    If you take into account the way Waldorf Schools teach writing and reading, they derive the letters from the image of the sound.
    By example, they teach the ‘f’ as coming from the sound ‘fish,’ ‘m’ as from ‘mountain.’ (In Waldorf education, each teacher has total freedom on how to teach things, so this are just examples.)

    In human history all began with images than then were abstracted to symbols and, in this way, lost its connexion with they were represented,

    And then came typography, and created so many ways of representing the symbols…
    As speaking of the lowercase ‘a,’ usually a font family has this kind of symbol in the Regular style and the other design in the Italic style.

    So, I think that they are studying what it is just a question of memory of visual aspects of an abstract object.
    I just would put my interest in something different.
    (But maybe they got a succulent grant to do that.)

    • teknowh0re

      I think they just were curious as to why people seem to have no trouble recalling different shapings of the other characters, but in general many people were very unsure on the “g”.

  • The Cappy

    I got it right, but damn, I nearly answered 3. I remembered the direction of the curve in the letter’s thorax though. But I thought the thorax was on the right side not the left.

    • teknowh0re

      The middle part of a letter is called a thorax? *squints* did you just make that up? Interesting indeed, I like it, but i think its called a link or a descender?
      Do correct me if wrong.

      • John I. Clark

        You’re right, it’s actually called the link, in typography lingo. Lowercase p has a descender, while lowercase d has an ascender.

  • msbook

    hmm. I’m as old as many folks here, and the cursive direction seemed right, so 4 was my choice. It’s a mirror-image of 2, and its directional logic makes no sense

    • teknowh0re

      4 looked right to you? Honestly?
      But this is print, remember. *shrug* my gut told me 2.

      • msbook

        “Honestly”? are you asking me to doubt my own perceptions? I’m reading words, not characters, and the haptic memory of making a lowercase g in cursive is in my hand. Looks good in type, but try writing it that way. Anyway, I don’t demean your gut; we have different guts. We are both “right”.

  • John I. Clark

    I answered correctly, without googling or scrolling, but I had to think pretty hard about it! 😁

  • scottythebody

    I guessed the correct answer, but I never would have been able to draw that from memory. It was only by seeing it that I recognized it.

  • Blair Miller

    I got it right without hesitation, but… I’m a graphic designer, which feels a bit like cheating.

  • John Chilton

    Resorting to Ctrl-f found the first use of g in Discover’s font quickly.

  • clauclauclaudia

    I immediately knew the answer (the other three just look *wrong*!) but I did then start searching for “g” on the web page to note how many times it appeared in upper case or in a font that didn’t give away the answer. It’s the word “Google” in the middle of the article that first reveals it! Which if you get to by reading through the article, comes immediately after you’ve given the answer.

  • jim birch

    At one particularly precious time in my life I handwrote my small g’s in that style. I have finally got some payback.

  • m242424

    A month goes by and not a single person noticed that the actual letter is wrong anyway. The lower tail comes out from the middle, it does not ever come out of the side.

    People are asked to choose between 4 incorrect versions, no wonder the study is nonsense.

  • Samuel Knight

    I knew it straight way (Its the normal way to right a ‘g’ for me’ . I also use the strange ‘a’ which is used everywhere just not written

  • Jenny H

    Yeah. I ‘got it’ . But then I am an old fogey who grew up with it :-)

    • dannyelcastro

      disqus_hqUTBdP9h2 gg

  • Dr Ks Loke

    The same phenomenon is even more obvious for those who read and write Chinese characters


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