First, think of braille as the same alphabet that we use in English, but made for touch reading. Braille works by creating tactile shapes the blind can learn to read by touch. Each braille character, or cell is made of up to six dots in a two-by-three arrangement.
a braille dot
a braille cell
Notice a pattern in the braille cells. The top four cells match for the first ten characters as the second ten, and the remaining letters. W is an exception to this rule, being a late addition to the alphabet. Braille is old!
Basic numbers are written by using the number symbol, which converts letters A (for 1) through J (for 0). The number prefix starts the number format, then things return to letters after a space. Texts with lots of math are usually written in a specialized braille code called Nemeth Braille.
Formatting and styling
Capital and italic letters are created using special characters along with the letters described above.
A capital sign signals that an uppercase character is next. Use it once for an initial cap, twice to capitalize the whole word. Three starts an all caps passage of two or more words. To end the passage, use two capital signs and you're back to lowercase.
Italics employ the italic symbol followed by a second character to indicate how much text will be italicized.
Sentences are punctuated with these common characters.
Quotes, parentheses and brackets have opening and closing signs that enclose a word or words.
Hyphens, dashes, apostrophes, asterisks, and ellipses can be placed anywhere.
Currency symbols such as dollar and cents are created with the currency sign (dot 4), followed by a letter (visually it's similar to the one depicted in the print symbol).
To communicate efficiently, English braille uses letters and special characters called contractions, which save space and effort similar to textspeak or SMS language. Contractions can help reduce text length by as much as 300%, which greatly reduces the size and weight of Braille books.
Some contractions are only valid as whole words, and some are only used as suffixes or prefixes and are indicated here. A great way to see how contractions work is to try our Write in Braille feature.