Two Versions of the Letter “g”

Aanya Lall

Despite reading the printed letter “g” thousands of times in our lifetime, the majority of people cannot identify the most common form of the letter “g.”


There are two Gs?

There are two types of g’s: handwritten and typeset. The handwritten form of g is called the opentail version. This is the form we most often think of when thinking of the letter g because we are taught to write a g in its opentail form. The second is the looptail g which is much more common on computers. This g is used in fonts such as Times New Roman and Calibri which is why it is seen in most printed works.

Take a look at the cover image of this blog and see if you can identify the correct looptail g. The correct answer will be revealed in the end. In order to test people’s awareness of the two forms of the letter g, Johns Hopkins University conducted a three-part experiment.


The Experiment

The purpose of the first experiment was to see if people even knew there were two forms of the lowercase g. When 38 adults were asked to list letters with two lowercase forms, just two named g. Only one could properly write both forms. Kimberly Wong, a junior undergraduate at Johns Hopkins said, “We would say: ‘There’re two forms of g. Can you write them? And people would look at us and just stare for a moment because they had no idea.” Most people aren’t even aware they are looking at a different g when they read a printed work than when they are writing one. Although people may look at both types of g’s many times everyday, most of them can’t identify that there are two types.

For the second part of the experiment, the researchers brought in 16 new people and asked them to read a paragraph filled with looptail g’s but to say words with the letter g out loud. This forced participants to pay particular attention to each g in the paragraph in order to recognize it. Eight of the sixteen participants wrote an opentail g, the wrong type. The rest attampted a looptail g, but only one had the right answer. “We think that if we look at something enough, especially if we have to pay attention to its shape as we do during reading, then we would know what it looks like, but our results suggest that’s not always the case,” Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist Michael McCloskey said. Even when participants were playing extra close attention to looptail g’s only 1 of the 16 people could draw one successfully.

Lastly, 25 participants were asked to choose the correct looptail g in a multiple choice just as you had earlier. Only seven of these participants were successful. The correct answer was the top right corner. A looptail g looks like this g.



“They don’t entirely know what this letter looks like, even though they can read it,” said Gali Ellenblum, a graduate student in cognitive science. “This is not true of letters in general. What’s going on here?” How can we read the letter g, and not even know how to replicate it or even recognize it. This experiment has shown that our knowledge of what letters look like can suffer when we don’t write them. With typing on computers becoming more and more popular in schools, researchers wonder what this means for the future of reading and writing in the generations to come.

Ameera Ebrahim ’21

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