Small Words

In English there are only a few words that have just one letter:

  • a = the indefinite article – a letter
  • I = the first person singular pronoun – I
  • o = a blood type; a vocative particle – O, I see an A

A number of other letters are used to represent whole words or parts of words in slang, and other flavours of informal English:

  • B = babe, baby
  • c = see – I c u (I see you)
  • E = ecstasy
  • G = gangster, gangsta; grand (1,000)
  • k = okay; kilometer
  • L = to lose, loss – catching an L (making a loss); loser
  • p = pence – 10p = ten pence
  • r = are – How r u? (How are you?)
  • u = you
  • v = very – v good (very good)
  • x = kiss
  • y = yes, why

Source: Urban Dictionary

In Welsh there are actually quite a few one-letter words, some of which are homographs (written the same, but having different meanings):

  • a = who(m), which
  • a = interrogative particle before a verb – A ddaeth y dyn? (Did the man come?)
  • a = ah!
  • a = and
  • â = with, by means of
  • â = as
  • â = he/she/it goes
  • e(f) = he, him, it (South Wales)
  • i = to, for
  • o = from, of, out of
  • o = oh!
  • o = he, it (North Wales)
  • w/ŵ = ooh!
  • y = the
  • y = relative particle – Canol y dref (town centre / centre of the town)

Welsh – it’s not all long words!

In Swedish there are a few single-letter words:

  • å = oh!
  • å = small river, stream
  • Å = a village in Norrköping municipality, Östergötland, Sweden
  • à = at, or – à femtio kronor (at 50 kronor)
  • i = in, at, into
  • ö = island
  • Ö = a locality in Ånge Municipality, Västernorrland County, Sweden
  • u = ugh! ooh!

How about in other languages?

This was inspired by a post on the Polyglots Facebook group about single letter words in Swedish.

6 thoughts on “Small Words

  1. In Russian: conjunctions а and и; prepositions в (во), к (ко) , о (об), с (со), у; particle ж (reduced version of же); pronoun я (1st pers. sg., “I”; one letter but two phonemes [ja]). There is also two-letter but one-phoneme particle ль (reduced version of ли). That’s not counting interjections (А! О! У!) and (mostly foreign) proper names.

  2. Spanish has y “and” and o “or”.

    Japanese has a bunch of particles which are written with a single syllabic character but require multiple letters when transliterated to the Roman alphabet. The one exception is the direct object marker を, which is pronounced o in official standard Japanese (but wo in some regional speech).

  3. I don’t think you can cite O as a “word” when referring to a blood type. The O is a code, not a word. There is Type A, Type B, Type AB which has both A and B factors, and Type O which has neither A nor B. In a sense, Type O is almost like Type 0 (zero).

    The letter O is sometimes seen in biblical and poetic works, and is just an abbreviation for Oh.

    In urban acronyms, you might add L for Loser, usually applied in a derogatory way.

    Y might be used as a shorthand for WHY, but is commonly used for Yes, with N = No.

  4. In Gaelg (Manx Gaelic), just two single-vowel words: e meaning ‘his’ (when followed by lenition) and ‘her’ (with the radical form of the noun); and y, the definite article, also frequently yn. As far as I know, there are no words that consist of a single consonant.

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