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The recto and verso are respectively the "front" and "back" sides of a leaf of paper in a bound item such as a codex
A codex is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings typically bound together and given a cover.Developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement...

, book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

, broadsheet
Broadsheet is the largest of the various newspaper formats and is characterized by long vertical pages . The term derives from types of popular prints usually just of a single sheet, sold on the streets and containing various types of material, from ballads to political satire. The first broadsheet...

, or pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

. In languages written from left to right (such as English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

) the recto is the right-hand
Relative direction
The most common relative directions are left, right, forward, backward, up, and down. No absolute direction corresponds to any of the relative directions. This is a consequence of the translational invariance of the laws of physics: nature, loosely speaking, behaves the same no matter what...

 page and the verso the left-hand page. These are terms of art in the binding, printing, and publishing industries, and can be applied more broadly to any field where physical documents are exchanged.

The term recto-verso describes two-sided text. The terms are important in the field of codicology
Codicology is the study of books as physical objects, especially manuscripts written on parchment in codex form...

, where each physical sheet of a manuscript is numbered and the sides are referred to as recto and verso. Critical editions of manuscripts will often mark the position of text in the original manuscript, or manuscripts, in the style '42r.' or '673vº'.

The use of the terms 'recto' and 'verso' are also used in the codicology of manuscripts written in right-to-left scripts, like Syriac
Syriac alphabet
The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language from around the 2nd century BC . It is one of the Semitic abjads directly descending from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and the traditional Mongolian alphabets.-...

, Arabic
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

 and Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

. However, as these scripts are written in the other direction to the scripts witnessed in European codices, the recto page is to the left while the verso is to the right. The reading order of each folio remains 'first recto, then verso' regardless of writing direction.

The terms are carried over into printing; recto-verso is the norm for printed books, but was an important advantage of the printing-press over the much older Asian woodblock printing
Woodblock printing
Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper....

 method, which printed by rubbing from behind the page being printed, and so could only print on one side of a piece of paper. The distinction between recto and verso can be convenient in the annotation
An annotation is a note that is made while reading any form of text. This may be as simple as underlining or highlighting passages.Annotated bibliographies give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument...

 of scholarly books, particularly in bilingual edition translations.

The "recto" and "verso" terms can also be employed for the front and back of a one-sheet artwork, particularly in drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

. A recto-verso drawing is a sheet with drawings on both sides, for example in a sketchbook—although usually in these cases there is no obvious primary side. Some works are planned to exploit being on two sides of the same piece of paper, but usually the works are not intended to be considered together. Paper was relatively expensive in the past; indeed good drawing paper still is much more expensive than normal paper.

By book publishing convention, the first page of a book, and sometimes of each section and chapter of a book, is a recto page, and hence all recto pages will have odd numbers and all verso pages will have even numbers.

In some early printed books (e.g. João de Barros
João de Barros
João de Barros , called the Portuguese Livy, is one of the first great Portuguese historians, most famous for his Décadas da Ásia , a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia.-Early years:...

's Décadas da Ásia), it is the folios ("leaves"), rather than the pages, that are numbered. Thus each folio carries a consecutive number on its recto side, while on the verso side there is no number.

Idioms in modern languages

Le mode recto verso is an idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

atic expression in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 that means, literally, "two sides of a sheet or page", but figuratively means that two things are basically the same, or that they are different but closely related. This is analogous to, (and maybe even cognate to) some idioms in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 such as "two sides of the same coin" or "six of one and half a dozen of the other".

See also

  • Book design
    Book design
    Book design is the art of incorporating the content, style, format, design, and sequence of the various components of a book into a coherent whole....

  • Obverse and reverse
    Obverse and reverse
    Obverse and its opposite, reverse, refer to the two flat faces of coins and some other two-sided objects, including paper money, flags , seals, medals, drawings, old master prints and other works of art, and printed fabrics. In this usage, obverse means the front face of the object and reverse...

     in coins
  • Page spread