Carolingian Minuscule: Letter Forms and Aspect

Letter Forms

The letter forms are based on Roman Half-Uncial, as interpreted in various continental scripts, with some influence from Insular Half-Uncial.

Because the Italian Renaissance adopted a version of this as their standard typeface, most of the forms are familiar to us today.

a is become a more curvaceous version of the Uncial a. It looks like our typeface version.
g has developed a closed bow and a curved tail.
r has lost its descender and shortened its loop, like a slightly less tipsy version of Half-Uncial r. (The Lindisfarne Gospels use an elegant version of this r, which can be inadvertently mistaken for an n.) Carolingian Minuscule r is recognisably our typeface version.
There is another type of r, the '2-shaped' version which we will see in later scripts being used after bowed letters. It looks like a R without its downstroke. On this page it is used once (section 5, line 2), after o.
n is the 'lower-case' version, like the Insular Majuscule and Anglo-Saxon Minuscule n,
though there is an Insular Majuscule N in section 6, line 9.
The tall version of s is used, like the alternative s in Insular Majuscule .

A couple of letters are interesting because of their history:

Y (section 5, line 9) is the smallish, exotic-looking Greek g: here it appears in the Greek word Abyssus, 'deeps'.
This (section 2, line 1) is a 'tagged e'. It was used to indicate the 'open e' or [e], which had developed phonetically from the Latin diphthong [ae]. This is the letter which was used for Anglo-Saxon . The word celum is from Latin caelum, 'sky, heaven'.
The scribe writes out the whole word below (section 4, line 8). There is further evidence in section 1, line 1 that he is confused about this sound. What is it?


There is a restrained use of serifs.

The tall s has the characteristic triangular bump at head-line height.
Letters like p begin with a slight triangular serif.
Letters with short minims like u, m, and n begin with a sideways stroke of the pen, which adds to the generally cursive look of a script where the letters are not in fact conspicuously joined.

Tall letters are clubbed.

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An even, upright, rounded script. It gives the impression of clarity, and a certain cursive quality.

The script is evenly spaced between the head- and base-line:

Ascenders on d, b , and l, all of which have straight verticals, are as tall again as the body of the text:

Descenders are on the whole not so deep, though p, g, and occasionally q can be the depth of the body of text:

Other letters such as s do not rise as high above the headline; f, and occasionally s descend slightly below:

Verticals are upright and evenly spaced:

The width of the pen strokes is vertical, but the angle of the nib produces thinner lines where the stroke rises up into a curve. This creates an oval effect on bows, and a slanting effect on diagonals:

The aspect ratio of our test letters is:

o is roughly square c is roughly 1:.8 m is roughly 1:1.6

The generally curved look is due to

The cursive aspect is enhanced by the fluent way letters are flicked upwards
at the end of the pen-stroke. Diagonals are making a return in a small way:
  • the even Romanesque arches of letters like:

  • the curved tops of f and s:
  • the oval curves on the bows of b, d, and h, p, q, and g:

  • and other curvilinear letters such as:

  • the elegant arches of the ligatures of st and ct:

  • notice the angle of the
    cross-stroke on e.

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    © MEG TWYCROSS 1998