A Heraldic Primer: Ordinaries

An ordinary is a charge that consists of one or more strips of some tincture which cover large areas of the shield. Every side of an ordinary is either straight or else parallels a curved edge of the shield.

When learning these terms, it is useful to notice how the field divisions seen earlier correspond with the multi-edged ordinaries.

Sometimes the rarer ordinaries are called subordinaries. I find it more useful to classify them according to how many edges they have.

One-edged Ordinaries:

Sable, a base argent.
Sable, a bordure argent.
Sable, a canton argent.
Sable, a chief argent.
Sable, a gyron argent.
Sable, a pile argent.
Sable, a tierce argent.

Two-edged Ordinaries

Sable, a bend argent.
Sable, a chevron argent.
Sable, a fess argent.
Sable, an orle argent.
Sable, a pale argent.

There is one three-edged ordinary: Sable, a pall argent.


There are two four-edged ordinaries:

Sable, a cross argent.
Sable, a saltire argent.

The word inverted following a charge indicates that it is up-side down. Similarly, the word sinister is used with an ordinary to indicate that it is switched left-to-right.

Sable, a bend sinister argent.
Sable, a chevron inverted argent.
Sable, a pall inverted argent.
Sable, a pile inverted argent.
Sable, a sinister canton argent.

There are also special names for certain variants of the ordinaries, including diminuative (narrow) versions and other variants, such as the dance, the baton, and the shakefork, which we will discuss next.