Vertical writing

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Many East Asian scripts can be written horizontally or vertically. The Chinese, Japanese and Korean scripts can be oriented in either direction, as they consist mainly of disconnected syllabic units, each occupying a square block of space. On the other hand the traditional Kapampangan script, Mongolian script and its offshoots (like Manchu) are written vertically.

Horizontal writing is known in Chinese as hengpai (simplified Chinese: 横排; traditional Chinese: 橫排; pinyin: héngpái; literally "horizontal alignment"), in Japanese as yokogaki (横書き, "horizontal writing", also yokogumi, 横組み), and in Korean as garosseugi (가로쓰기) or hoengseo (횡서; 橫書).

Vertical writing is known respectively as zongpai (simplified Chinese: 纵排; traditional Chinese: 縱排; pinyin: zòngpái; literally "vertical alignment"), tategaki (縦書き, "vertical writing", also tategumi, 縦組み), or serosseugi (세로쓰기) or jongseo (종서; 縱書).

Traditionally, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are written vertically in columns going from top to bottom and ordered from right to left, with each new column starting to the left of the preceding one. The stroke order and stroke direction of Chinese characters (hanzi in Chinese, kanji in Japanese, hanja in Korean), Japanese kana, and Korean Hangul all facilitate writing in this manner. In addition, writing in vertical columns from right to left facilitated writing with a brush in the right hand while continually unrolling the sheet of paper or scroll with the left. In modern times, it has become increasingly common for these languages to be written horizontally, from left to right, with successive rows going from top to bottom, under the influence of European languages such as English, although vertical writing is still used in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau frequently.

Differences between horizontal and vertical writing

Chinese characters, Japanese kana, and Korean hangul can be written horizontally or vertically. There are some small differences in orthography. In horizontal writing it is more common to use Arabic numerals, whereas Chinese numerals are more common in vertical text.

In these scripts, the positions of punctuation marks, for example the relative position of commas and full stops (periods), differ between horizontal and vertical writing. Punctuation such as the parentheses, quotation marks, book title marks (Chinese), ellipsis mark, dash, wavy dash (Japanese), proper noun mark (Chinese), wavy book title mark (Chinese), emphasis mark, and chōon mark (Japanese) are all rotated 90 degrees when switching between horizontal and vertical text.

Where a text is written in horizontal format, pages are read in the same order as English books, with the binding at the left and pages progressing to the right. Vertical books are printed the other way round, with the binding at the right, and pages progressing to the left.

Ruby characters, like furigana in Japanese or zhuyin in Taiwan Chinese, which provide a phonetic guide for unusual or difficult-to-read characters, follow the direction of the main text. Example in Japanese, with furigana in green:


Inserted text in the Roman alphabet is usually written horizontally, or turned sideways when it appears in vertical text, with the base of the characters on the left.

Right-to-left horizontal writing

Historically, vertical writing was the standard system, and horizontal writing was only used where a sign had to fit in a constrained space, such as over the gate of a temple or the signboard of a shop. This horizontal writing is in fact a special case of vertical writing in which each column contains just one character.

Therefore, before the end of World War II in Japan, those signs were read right to left.

Today, the left-to-right direction is dominant in all three languages for horizontal writing: this is due partly to the influence of English, and partly to the increased use of computerized typesetting and word processing software, most of which does not directly support right-to-left layout of East Asian languages. However, right-to-left horizontal writing is still seen in these scripts, in such places as signs, on the right-hand side of vehicles, and on the right-hand side of stands selling food at festivals. It is also used to simulate archaic writing, for example in reconstructions of old Japan for tourists, and it is still found in the captions and titles of some newspapers.



The first printed Chinese text in horizontal alignment was Robert Morrison's "Dictionary of the Chinese language", published in 1815–1823 in Macau.

The earliest widely known Chinese publication using horizontal alignment was the magazine Science (科學). Its first issue in January 1915 explained the (then) unusual format:

This magazine is printed so that it goes sideways from the top left, and is marked with Western punctuation. This is to make the insertion of mathematical, physical and chemical formulae convenient, not for the sake of novelty-hunting. We ask our readers to excuse us.

In the subsequent decades, the occurrence of words in a Western script (predominantly English) became increasingly frequent, and readers begin to appreciate the unwieldiness of rotating the paper at each occurrence for vertically-set texts. This accelerated acceptance of horizontal writing.

With the proliferation of horizontal text, both horizontal and vertical came to be used concurrently. Proponents of horizontal text argued that vertical text in right-to-left columns were smudged easily when written, and moreover demanded greater movement from the eyes when read. Vertical text proponents, on their part, considered horizontal text to be a break from established tradition.

After the success of the communist revolution in 1949, the People's Republic of China decided to use horizontal writing. All newspapers in China changed from vertical to horizontal alignment on January 1, 1956. In publications, text is run horizontally although book titles on spines and some newspaper headlines remain vertical for convenience. Inscriptions of signs on most state organs are still vertical.

In Singapore, vertical writing has also become rare. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and among older overseas Chinese communities, horizontal writing has been gradually adopted since the 1990s. By the early 2000s, most newspapers in these areas had switched to left-to-right horizontal writing, either entirely or in a combination of vertical text with horizontal left-to-right headings.


Horizontal text came into Japanese in the Meiji era, when the Japanese began to print Western language dictionaries. Initially they printed the dictionaries in a mixture of horizontal Western and vertical Japanese text, which meant readers had to rotate the book ninety degrees to read the Western text. Because this was unwieldy, the idea of yokogaki came to be accepted. One of the first publications to partially use yokogaki was a German to Japanese dictionary (袖珍挿図独和辞書, Shūchinsōzu Dokuwa Jisho, "pocket illustrated German to Japanese dictionary") published in 1885 (Meiji 18).

At the beginning of the change to horizontal alignment in Meiji era Japan, there was a short-lived form called migi yokogaki (右横書き, literally "right horizontal writing"), in contrast to hidari yokogaki, (左横書き, literally "left horizontal writing"), the current standard. This resembled the right-to-left horizontal writing style of languages such as Arabic with line breaks on the left. It was probably based on the traditional single-row right-to-left writing. This form was never widely used except for pre-WWII official documents (like banknotes), and has not survived outside of some temple name signs.


Traditionally, Korean writing has been vertical, with columns running right to left. After the 1980s, left-to-right horizontal script became popular.

In 1988, The Hankyoreh became the first Korean newspaper to use horizontal writing, and after 1990, all other major newspapers followed suit. Today, no major Korean newspapers run text vertically.


Simplified Chinese

In mainland China, where the Simplified Chinese orthographical reform has been adopted, vertical writing is now very rare, more so in print than in writing and signage. Most publications are now printed in horizontal alignment, like English. Horizontal writing is written left to right in the vast majority of cases, with a few exceptions such as bilingual dictionaries of Chinese and right-to-left scripts like Arabic, in which case Chinese may follow the right-to-left alignment. Right-to-left writing direction can also often be seen on the right side of tourist buses, as it is customary to have the text run (on both sides of the vehicle) from the front of the bus to its rear.

Vertical alignment is generally used for artistic or aesthetic purposes (e.g. on logos and book covers), in scholarly works on Classical Chinese literature, or when space constraints demand it (e.g. on the spines of books and in labelling diagrams). Naturally, vertical text is also used on signs that are longer than they are wide; such signs are the norm at the entrances of schools, government offices and police stations as in the example to the right. Calligraphy - in Simplified or Traditional Chinese - is invariably written vertically. Additionally, vertical text may still be encountered on some business cards and personal letters in China

Japanese and Traditional Chinese

Both horizontal and vertical writing are used in Japan, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan where the Traditional Chinese orthography is used. Traditional Chinese is also used in Mainland China in a few limited contexts, such as some books on ancient literature, or as an aesthetic choice for some signs on shops, temples, etc. In those contexts, both horizontal and vertical writing are used as well.

Vertical writing is commonly used for novels, newspapers, comics, and many other forms of writing. Because it goes downwards, vertical writing is invariably used on the spines of books. Some newspapers combine the two forms, using the vertical format for most articles but including some written horizontally, especially for headlines. Musical notation for some Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi is written vertically.

Horizontal writing is easier for some purposes; academic texts are sometimes written this way since they often include words and phrases in other languages, which are more easily incorporated horizontally. Scientific and mathematical texts are nearly always written horizontally, since in vertical writing equations must be turned sideways, making them more difficult to read.

Similarly, English language textbooks, which contain many English words, are usually printed in horizontal writing. This is not a fixed rule, however, and it is also common to see English words printed sideways in vertical writing texts.

Computer text is usually presented in horizontal format; see Japanese language and computers.

Business cards in Japan (meishi) are often printed vertically in Japanese on one side, and horizontally in English on the other. Postcards and handwritten letters may be arranged horizontally or vertically, but the more formal the letter the more likely it is to be written vertically. Envelope addresses are usually vertical, with the recipient's address on the right and the recipient's name in the exact centre of the envelope. See also Japanese etiquette.


In East Asian calligraphy, vertical writing remains the dominant direction.


Japanese comics, also known as manga, tend to use vertical direction for text. Manga frames tend to flow in right-to-left horizontal direction. Frames in yonkoma manga tend to flow in a vertical direction. Page ordering is the same as books that use vertical direction: from right to left. Frames that are chronologically before or after each other use less spacing in between as a visual cue.

In some cases, horizontal writing may be used to indicate that a character is actually speaking in English instead of Japanese.

Some publishers that translate manga into European languages may choose to keep the original page order (a notable example is Shonen Jump magazine), while other publishers may reverse the page flow with use of mirrored pages.


In modern Korea, vertical writing is rare. Modern Korean is usually written in left-to-right horizontally. Vertical writing is only used when the writing space is long vertically and narrow horizontally. For example, titles on the spines of books are usually written vertically. When a foreign language film is subtitled into Korean, the subtitles are sometimes written vertically at the right side of the screen.

In the Standard language (표준어; 標準語) of South Korea, punctuation marks are used differently in horizontal and vertical writing. Western punctuation marks are used in horizontal writing and the Japanese-style punctuation marks are used in vertical writing. However, vertical writing using Western punctuation marks is sometimes found.


In modern Vietnam, vertical writing is rare. Modern Vietnamese, written using the Vietnamese alphabet, is always written horizontally left-to-right. Traditionally, vertical writing in Vietnamese was only used for Nôm and chữ Nho but a style of writing alphabetic script vertically has emerged. Before Nôm and chữ Nho lost popularity, they were also written horizontally both right-to-left and left-to-right.

Traditionally the Nôm and chữ Nho systems did not employ punctuation marks. Only at the beginning of the twentieth century some authors started to use punctuation marks as are found for example in modern Japanese.


Traditional Mongolian and Manchu scripts are rendered vertically. Characters within Mongolian text that can only be rendered horizontally are rotated by 90 degrees.

The columns are read from left to right.

Vertical writing and computers

Early computer installations were designed only to support left-to-right horizontal writing based on the Latin alphabet. Today, most computer programs do not fully support the vertical writing system; however, most advanced word processing and publication software which target the East Asian region support the vertical writing system either fully or to a limited extent.

Even though vertical text display is generally not well supported, composing vertical text for print has been made possible. For example, on Asian editions of Windows, Asian fonts are also available in a vertical version, with font names prefixed by "@".[1] Users can compose and edit the document as normal horizontal text. When complete, changing the text font to a vertical font converts the document to vertical orientation for printing purposes.

Vertical text and layout on World Wide Web

Since the late 1990s, W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has been drafting latest efforts in 2011 show some revisions to the previous format for the Writing Mode property which provides for vertical layout and text display. The former format "writing-mode:tb-rl" has been revised as "writing-mode: vertical-rl".

Among Web browsers, Internet Explorer is probably the only one that has been supporting vertical text and layout coded in HTML. Starting with Microsoft extension to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)".

See also


  • Nihongo Daihakubutsukan (日本語大博物館), author: Jun'ichirō Kida (紀田順一郎), publisher: Just System (ジャストシステム, Jasuto Shisutemu) ISBN 4-88309-046-9 (in Japanese), chapter 9, deals with the change from tategaki to yokogaki in modern Japanese.
  • Ishikawa, Kyuyoh. Taction: The Drama of the Stylus in Oriental Calligraphy. Translated by Waku Miller. Tokyo: International House of Japan, 2011.
  • Obana, Yasuko. “Vertical or Horizontal? Reading Directions in Japanese,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 60, no. 1 (1997): 86-94 (available in the JSTOR online journal archive).

External links

  • "CSS Writing Modes Module Level 3" W3C Working Draft 15 November 2012
  • "Requirements for Japanese Text Layout" W3C Working Group Note 3 April 2012
  • Grinols, Mark. "Using vertical layout in Internet Explorer 5.5" (Microsoft Corporation, October 2000)
  • "Explaining why Chinese characters move vertically (tb-rl)" (a passage from Ishikawa Kyuyo's book)
  • Unicode Technical Note #22 Robust Vertical Text Layout

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