For the purposes of this article, any word which has appeared in a recognised general English dictionary published in the 20th century or later is considered a candidate.

Strange spellings

Most people are aware that the letter y can serve as both a consonant and a vowel. However, cwm (pronounced "koom", defined as a steep-walled hollow on a hillside) is a rare case of a word using w as a vowel, as is crwth (pronounced "krooth", a type of stringed instrument). Both words are in MWCD. They derive from the Welsh use of w as a vowel. The word cwm is commonly applied to Welsh place names; cwms of glacial origin are a common feature of Welsh geography. It is also used to describe features in the Himalaya.

Arguably, however, both these examples may belong in 'Words of Foreign Origin', as they are actual words in the Welsh language which have been absorbed into English. See 'coombe' as the south-west English equivalent of 'cwm'.

Uncopyrightable, with fifteen letters, is the longest common word in English in which no letter is used more than once. Dermatoglyphics shares the distinction but is a less well-known word.

Combinations of letters

There is only one common word in English that has five vowel letters in a row: "queueing" (2 vowel sounds).

The word knightsbridge has six consonant letters in a row (with four consonant sounds), as does latchstring.

There are several words that feature all five vowels in alphabetical order, including "abstemious", "abstentious", "arsenious", "caesious" and "facetious".

The word "strengths" is the longest word with one vowel. See also rhythmless (10) and polyrhythms (11)

Strange pairs or groups of words

EWE and YOU are a pair of words with identical pronunciations that have no letters in common. Another example is the pair, EYE and I. However such word pairs are often dependent on the accent of the speaker. For instance Americans might well believe that A and EH form such a pair whereas other English speakers might not.

The most notorious group of letters in the English language, ough, can be pronounced at least ten different ways.

"UFF" tough, enough
"OFF" cough
"OW" bough, slough Slough is pronounced as 'slew' in American English
"OH" though, dough
"OR" thought
"AW" thought Pronounced as in 'awe' in American English
"OO" through
"UH" thorough It is pronouced as 'OH' in American English
"UP" hiccough variant spelling of "hiccup", though the latter form is recommended in both British and US
"OKH" lough A lake; Irish analogue of Scottish "loch"

The original pronunciation in all cases was the last one. However the kh sound has disappeared from most modern English dialects. As it faded, different speakers replaced it by different near equivalents in different words. Thus the present confusion resulted.

Tough, though, through, and thorough are all formed by adding an additional letter each time, yet in some dialects of English none of them rhyme with each other.

Al, Ala, Alan, Alana are names all formed by adding an additional letter each time, ideal for a family of four.


Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - although some might argue that this word does not formally belong to English language, it definitely belongs to English culture today. It was popularized by a song from Walt Disney's movie Mary Poppins, 1964. It is not used the original book by Pamela Travers. The origins are unclear, but claimed to significantly predate the movie (which was also a base for a copyright infringement lawsuit against the song publishers). See the Supercali... external link.

There are other longwords known, such as antidisestablishmentarianism, listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, which held the #1 place for quite a long time. Today books for curious kids mention "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" to be The Number One. However chemical nomenclature of organic compounds may easily beat any present or future record. The word trichloroethyleneglycerophosphate gives the idea. One may easily concoct a name of thousands letters in this way, see the What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean? external link.

Words of foreign origin

The entire history of English involves influence and loanwords from other languages, and this process continues today. However, there is a gray area between foreign words and words accepted as English. Everyone would accept that the formerly foreign "ballet" (French), "ketchup" (Malay) and "safari" (Swahili) are now English words. The status of words such as "zeitgeist" and "schadenfreude" is less clear-cut. The Oxford English Dictionary calls such words "resident aliens".

Words with large numbers of meanings

Scanning the Oxford English dictionary reveals an astounding 76 definitions of the word "Run". Other words with large numbers of meanings are

Top Ten Words
1 Run=76
2 Set=63
3 Point=49
4 Strike=48
5 Light=47
6 Round=46
7 Cast=45
8 Draw=45
9 Touch=45
10 Rise=44

See also: English language, Inherently funny word

External links