The Shortest Words in the English Language

The Shortest Words in the English Language

Qi is a Chinese word. It means dynasty. Unless you are in a history class, you may not find many occasions to talk about ancient Chinese dynasties. However, in the last few turns of a word game, this word could make the difference between victory and defeat! What other short words can you add to your arsenal? Here are some of the shortest units of language in English.

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One-letter words

In every conversation you have, you probably use one of two vowels as a single-letter word. Did you guess a and I? The indefinite article a is only capitalized when it begins a sentence, but the pronoun I is always capitalized. Another single-letter word that is always capitalized is O. It’s not common in everyday writing, but it appears as an interjection in poetry. Some dictionaries list every letter of the alphabet as an individual word. For example, each English letter has five meanings listed on Dictionary.com. V, for instance, is the twenty-second letter of the alphabet; any spoken sound represented by the letter V; anything that has the form of a V; any written representation of the letter V; and a device, such as printer’s type, that reproduces the letter V. What a lot of meanings for one letter!

Two-letter words

How many two-letter words do you know? Most are quite common. Besides the greeting hi, there are verbs—am, be, do, is, and go. There are lots of articles, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions—as, an, at, by, in, no, of, on, so, to, up. Finally, there are pronouns—he, it, me, us, and we. It’s the nouns and the adjectives that seem a little obscure: Aa is a type of lava. Ae means one. Id is a part of the human psyche. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Three-letter words

Though single- and two-letter words are relatively few, there are scores of three-letter words in the English language. You might shock your opponent if you use one of the rare ones. In mathematics, iff means “if and only if.” A kip is the hide of a small animal. Nim is a synonym of steal. In some word games, words composed of rare letters give high scores. How many points could you get with pyx, a box used for religious purposes, or zek, a term once used for prison camp laborers?

Aside from word games, short words come in handy in other ways. Phrontistery.info features a riddle: Add two and one and you may ken the odd key I’ll use for now. Not yet? ’Tis not too bad, but I’ll aid you. Thy tip: “wee.” Now can you spy the key? Yes! You win! But you see how its use can vex the ego, and I’ll end. But who can say it’s not fun?

How will you use your tiny little words? Whether you use them to win a game or compose a poem, take a moment to appreciate these small gems.

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