Alphabetical Order

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Click here for free, printer-friendly "alphabetical order" worksheets (2nd, 3rd grades).


Knowing and using alphabetical order is an essential skill. We often write and organize lists in alphabetical order. This will allow you and others to find names, titles and documents very quickly. Sorting things in English is done using the Roman alphabet.

a-b-c-d-e-f-g-h-i-j-k-l-m-n-o-p-q-r-s-t-u-v-w-x-y-z

Different languages have different rules for sorting.

To decide which of two words comes first in alphabetical order, initially, their first letters are compared. The word whose first letter appears earlier in the alphabet comes first in alphabetical order. If the first letters are the same, then the second letters are compared, and so on, until the order is decided. (Words with the same first letter are grouped together, and within such a group, words with the same first two letters are grouped together, and so on).

If a position is reached where one word has no more letters to compare while the other does, then the first (shorter) word comes first in alphabetical order.

Capital letters (upper case) are generally considered to be identical to their corresponding lower case letters, though conventions may be adopted to handle situations where two words differ only in capitalization.

Various conventions also exist for the handling of words containing spaces, modified letters (such as those with diacritics), and non-letter characters such as marks of punctuation.



Rules for Proper Alphabetizing- How to Sort Words in Alphabetical Order


A list of items like Ema, Bob, Gabriel, and John is organized by their first letter. A comes before B, and B comes before C (and so on) in the alphabet.

1. Bob
2. Ema
3. Gabriel
4. John

If many words have the same first letter, they are sorted by their second letters. After that, the third and fourth letters are used until the whole list is sorted.

1. Abby
2. Abigail
3. Adriana
4. Agatha
5. Akela

If one word has no more letters to compare while the other does, then the first (shorter) word comes first in alphabetical order.

1. but
2. butter
3. butterfly

Names are often written with the last names first.

1. Banderas, Antonio
2. Brody, Adrien
3. Farrell, Colin
4. Pitt, Brad

Numbers can be sorted in two ways. Sometimes, they are listed in order from smallest to largest. This is the normal way to sort numbers.

3
7
15
23
36

Other times, they can be sorted as if they were normal, spelled-out words. This way is often used for numbers in titles.

fifteen
seven
thirty-six
three
twenty-three

When some of the words contain numerals, various approaches are possible. Sometimes such characters are treated as if they came before or after all the letters of the alphabet.

The words a, an, the are often ignored. Sometimes they are written at the end, after a comma. Spaces and hyphens ( - ) are often ignored, too.

1. Long Day's Journey Into Night, A
2. Long Goodbye, The
3. Longhand: A Writer's Notebook
4. Long Road Home, The
5. Long Voyage Back

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