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P, p [Called ‘pee’]. The 16th LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It originated in the Phoenician symbol pe, which was adopted by the Greeks as pi (Π), an earlier form of which the Romans adopted as P.

Sound values

In English, the letter p is normally pronounced as a voiceless bilabial plosive, as in pip. Phonetic variations in English include a less aspirated value after initial s, as in spot, and an unreleased plosive before other consonants, as in slipped (as opposed to the gently released p in slipper). In final position, spoken /p/ may or may not be released: slip, snap.

Double P

(1) Final p is normally single (tap, step, tip, stop, cup, kidnap, worship), the form steppe probably reflecting FRENCH or GERMAN spelling, as the original RUSSIAN has only single p. Monosyllables double the final p after a single short vowel before a suffix beginning with a vowel (stopping, stopper, stopped). Few polysyllables end in p; if they do, the p is generally not doubled before suffixes: galloped, gossiping, syrupy. However, BrE treats kidnap, worship as though based on monosyllables (kidnapped, worshipping), though AmE often follows the polysyllabic pattern (kidnapped, worshiping). (2) The doubling of medial p after stressed simple short vowels is inconsistent, as in the pairs apple/chapel, pepper/leper, copper/proper. In coppice there is doubling, whereas related copse has a single p. (3) When p is preceded by some Latin prefixes, it is doubled because of the assimilation of a consonant, as in apparent (ad-parent), oppose (ob-pose), suppress (sub-press).

Epenthetic P

(1) The nasal equivalent of p is m. The phonetic closeness of the sounds represented by these letters has prompted an epenthetic p after m in empty (earlier emti), and in the variants sempstress/seamstress, Thompson/Thomson, and Hampstead/Hamstead (part of London and part of Birmingham, respectively). (2) Phonetically, there may be the same epenthetic p-quality in dreamt (‘drempt’) as in empty. (3) The p in related forms such as redeem/redemption, consume/consumption has been carried over from Latin etyma. See EPENTHESIS, ETYMON.


(1) The DIGRAPH ph with the value /f/ originated as the Latin transcription of Greek phi (Φ), which originally had the value of a heavily aspirated /p/ (comparable to the sound in uphold). Ph pronounced /f/ occurs almost only in roots of GREEK origin (pharmacy, philosophy, photograph), but has been adopted by analogy in occasional words of non-Greek derivation, such as nephew (compare French neveu, German Neffe), BrE sulphur (compare LATIN and AmE sulfur). The ph in the name Stephen is pronounced /v/ and is alternatively v as in Steven. (2) Ph before th is often pronounced /p/, for example ‘diptheria’ for diphtheria, ‘dipthong’ for diphthong, ‘opthalmic’ for opthalmic, and this leads to spellings without h. See F.

Silent P

(1) Initially, in words of Greek derivation before n (pneumonia), s (psalm), t (pterodactyl), producing combinations that, if pronounced, would be alien to English phonology. Middle English sometimes omitted p in salme, salter, but in Modern English it is seen in psalm, psalter, pseudo-, psittacosis, psoriasis, psyche, Ptolemy, ptomaine, etc. Of GAELIC origin, ptarmigan probably acquired its p by analogy with Greek derivations. (2) Occasionally, as when preceding a syllable beginning with its voiced equivalent b, the sound of p is assimilated, so effectively becoming silent, as in cupboard (‘cubberd’), raspberry (‘razb(e)ry’). (3) The p of receipt is an etymologically motivated insertion and was formerly often also inserted in conceit and deceit, but Samuel JOHNSON kept it only in receipt on grounds of common usage. (4) Silent p occurs in sapphire, whose first p was introduced to MIDDLE ENGLISH safir on etymological grounds. It also occurs in such French loans as corps and coup. (5) Whether p is pronounced after m in, for example, empty, exempt, tempt, prompt, consumption (as well as in dreamt) is unclear; at all events, the preceding bilabial m prepares the lips for p and is released as for /p/ with the following consonant.

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P1 / / (also p) • n. (pl. Ps or P's / pēz/ ) the sixteenth letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the next after O (or N if O is omitted) in a set of items, categories, etc. PHRASES: mind one's Ps and Qssee mind. P2 • abbr. ∎  pastor. ∎  father. ∎  (in tables of sports results) games played. ∎  (on an automatic gearshift) park. ∎  (on road signs and street plans) parking. ∎  peseta. ∎  peso. ∎  [in comb.] (in units of measurement) peta- (1015): 27 PBq of radioactive material. ∎  Physics poise (unit of viscosity). ∎  post. ∎  president. ∎  pressure. ∎  priest. ∎  prince. ∎  proprietary. ∎  progressive. • symb. ∎  the chemical element phosphorus.

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p • abbr. ∎  page. ∎  (p-) [in comb.] Chem. para-: p-xylene. ∎ Brit. penny or pence. ∎  Mus. piano (softly). ∎  [in comb.] (in units of measurement) pico- (10−12): a 220 pf capacitor. ∎ Chem. denoting electrons and orbitals possessing one unit of angular momentum. • symb. ∎  Physics pressure. ∎  Statistics probability.

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P 16th letter of the English alphabet and a letter employed in the alphabets of other w European languages. It is a consonant and descends from the Semitic letter pe, a word meaning “mouth”. The letter was modified in shape by the Greeks and taken into their alphabet as pi. The Romans changed the letter's shape further by shortening its right-hand vertical and later curving it to give it the form it has today. In English p normally functions as what phoneticians call a voiceless bilabial plosive or stop consonant, made by allowing the breath to build up behind closed lips to be released sharply as the lips are drawn apart. It is the voiceless counterpart of b. The letter is nearly always sounded, as in pig and top, although it is “silent” in a few Greek-derived words, such as psychology or pneumatic, and in the pseudo-Greek spelling ptarmigan. Combined with h it is pronounced like an f, as in phase and epitaph.

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p (bold ital.) Physics, symbol for electric dipole moment
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for momentum (bold ital. in vector equations)
• (ital.) Chem. para (as in p-cresol)
• symbol for penny (or pence)
• (bold ital.) Chem., symbol for permanent dipole moment of a molecule
• Biochem., symbol for (terminal) phosphate (in a polynucleotide)
• (ital.) Music piano (Italian; softly, quietly)
• symbol for pico- (prefix indicating 10−9 as in ps, picosecond)
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for pressure
• Physics, symbol for proton
• Electronics p-type (semiconductor)
• (ital.) Biochem., symbol for pyranose
• Meteorol., symbol for shower
• Physics, Chem., indicating the electron state l=1 (where l is orbital angular momentum quantum number)

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P (parental generation) The individuals that are selected to begin a breeding experiment, crosses between which yield the F1 generation. Only pure-breeding (homozygous) individuals are selected for the P generation.

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p. Abbreviation of piano (It., soft), hence pp, ppp, and sometimes even quieter (Verdi optimistically uses pppp in his Requiem, also Elgar in Enigma Variations).

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P symbol for
1. phosphorus.

2. (in statistics) probability (see significance).

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P the sixteenth letter of the modern English alphabet and the fifteenth of the ancient Roman one, corresponding to Greek pi, Phoenician and Semitic pe.

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