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Part 3: Alphabetic Anatomy - Teaching You Type banner graphic

In parts one and two, we covered the absolute basics, and we looked at what “cases” mean. Now in part three let’s look at the skeletons of a sentence. That’s right. Sentence skeletons. Now, as a belated Halloween special we’ve got a lesson to spook the pants off of you.

Just like people, letters have an anatomy to them. Legs, arms, ears, shoulders, there are all sorts of similarities. For this article, we’re going to be using the font Garamond to show all the different parts of letters. Just remember that these concepts also apply to every other font out there. Without any further rambling, here’s the anatomy of letters!


Stroke graphic


Strokes in letters are the main diagonal lines that make up the letter.


Counter graphic


The completely enclosed space on the inside of a letter.


Loop graphic


A loop is a counter which is connected to a letter but not part of the main body.


Bowl graphic


Bowls are the strokes that create the enclosed spaces called counters.


Tail graphic


The (usually curved) descender on the capital letters K, R, and Q. Occassionaly the descenders of some lowercase letters are also referred to as tails (such as in q, j, p, g, or y).


Serifs graphic


The decorative elements on the ends of strokes. These can vary in thickness or style. In the case of sans-serif fonts, they are completely excluded.


Spine graphic


Just like your own back, a spine is the main structural curve of the letter S.


Link graphic


The small stroke connects the two parts of a double-story letter.


Descender graphic


Descenders are the parts of letters that extend below the baseline.


Ascender graphic


The opposite of descenders, ascenders are the parts of letters that extend above the cap height.


Spur graphic


See that little sticky-outy bit at the bottom on the front G there? That’s called a spur.


Leg graphic


A leg is a part of a letter that’s connected at one end and extends downward to a terminal or serif.


Arm graphic


In typography, arms are just like legs, except they extend upwards rather than downwards.


Ear graphic


Occasionally the lowercase g will have a small decorative stroke on the top right called an ear.


Shoulder graphic


The curved part of a stroke in letters like m, n, or h.


Terminal graphic


When a stroke ends without a serif, that part is called a terminal.


Stem graphic


The main upright vertical stroke in a letter, or the first diagonal stroke in letters with non-vertical strokes, is the stem.


Bar graphic


A horizontal stroke is called a bar. Occasionally a crossbar will also be called a bar.


Crossbar graphic


The horizontal stroke connects two other strokes.


Challenge Time:

Now that you’ve studied all the different parts of letters, here’s a challenge for you! Below is an image of all the letter parts we covered in this article. How many can you name without having to scroll back up and double-check? Reach out to us on social media and let us know how you did!

Anatomy Lineup graphic