English words without vowels
English has words written without the five conventional vowel letters (A, E, I, O, U); it also has words without spoken vowel sounds. In most languages of the world, all or nearly all lexical words have vowel sounds, and English is no exception; however, rhotic dialects of English (such as most varieties of American English) have words like nurse and word with a syllabic r sound, but these words are typically written with a vowel letter immediately prior to an r. On the other hand, there are words that are not written with any of the five conventional vowel letters, though they are pronounced with a vowel sound. There also are some interjections and besides onomatopoeia, to ideophones in general, that contain neither vowel sounds nor syllabic r and which are thus spelled with no vowel letter.
This article does not cover abbreviations, such as km or ms, nor acronyms.
In English, the letter Y can represent either a vowel or a consonant sound, and many Modern English words spell the // and // sounds with Y; these include by, my, dry, fly, fry, cry, pry, gym, shy, sky, sly, spy, try, sty, why, hymn, lynx, myrrh, myth, wyrm, crypt, flyby, gypsy, lynch, nymph, pygmy, rhythm, tryst and syzygy which are vowels in these cases. The longest dictionary words (base forms excluding plurals) with Y the only vowel are rhythm, spryly, sylphy Sphynx and syzygy. The longest such word in common use is rhythms, and the longest such word in Modern English is the obsolete 17th-century word symphysy. If archaic words and spellings are considered, there are many more, the longest perhaps being twyndyllyngs, the plural of twyndyllyng meaning "twin".
Middle English used W to represent either a vowel or a consonant sound in the same way that Modern English uses Y, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. Vocalic W generally represented /uː/, as in wss "use". This practice exists in modern Welsh orthography, and there are a couple of words borrowed from Welsh that use W in this way:
- The crwth (pronounced /ˈkrʊθ/ or /ˈkruːθ/ and also spelled cruth) is a Welsh musical instrument similar to the violin:
- He intricately rhymes, to the music of crwth and pibgorn.
- cwtch (a hiding place or cubby hole) is also from Welsh (albeit a recent word influenced by English), and crwth and cwtch are according to Collins the longest English dictionary words without A, E, I, O, U, or Y.
- A cwm (pronounced /ˈkuːm/) is a deep hollow within a mountain, usually with steep edges, like a corrie, such as the Western Cwm of Mount Everest. However, it is, in literary English[clarification needed], nearly always spelled combe (as in Ilfracombe and Castle Combe), coomb (as in J. R. R. Tolkien) or comb (as in Alfred, Lord Tennyson).
Without W or Y
There are fewer lexical words with none of the vowels AEIOUWY. The longest such lexical word (not counting interjections) is tsktsks, pronounced /ˌtɪskˈtɪsks/. The mathematical expression nth /ˈɛnθ/, as in delighted to the nth degree, is in fairly common usage. Another mathematical term without vowel letters is rng /ˈrʌŋ/, derived from ring by deleting the letter i.
Vowelless proper names from other languages, such as the surname Ng, may retain their original spelling. (See below.)
There are also numerous vowelless interjections and onomatopoeia found more or less frequently, including brr (brrr is occasionally accepted), bzzt, grrr, hm, hmm, mm, mmm, pfft, pht, phpht, psst, sh, shh, zzz.
Words without vowel sounds
Although English is considered to be one of the many languages that require vowels in each syllable, the syllabic r of rhotic dialects in words like bird, learn, girl, church, heard, word, worst can be analyzed as being a syllabic consonant, [ɹ̩]. There is no uniform agreement among linguists as to whether these should instead be classed as rhotic vowels, [ɝ]. This may even differ from dialect to dialect.
The issue is similar in regard to nasal consonants and /l/, which can appear as the syllable nucleus in unstressed syllables. There are many disyllabic words where one of the syllables has no syllabic vowel, like curtain, and turtle: [ˈkɹ̩tn̩] and [ˈtɹ̩tl̩] (or [ˈkɝːtən], and [ˈtɝːtəl]), and even a few that are, or may be, trisyllabic, such as purpler [ˈpɹ̩.pl̩.ɹ̩], hurdler [ˈhɹ̩.dl̩.ɹ̩], burglar [ˈbɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], gurgler [ˈɡɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], certainer [ˈsɹ̩.tn̩.ɹ̩], and Ur-turtle [ˈɹ̩.tɹ̩.tl̩]. The words wyrm and myrrh contain neither a vowel letter nor a vowel sound in some dialects: [ˈwɹ̩m], [ˈmɹ̩] (or [ˈwɝːm], [ˈmɝː]).
A list of English words without vowel sounds (mostly interjections) can be found here.
In addition, some unstressed function words may lose their vowel in more rapid speech. The word and frequently contracts to a simple nasal stop ’n, as in lock 'n key [ˌlɒk ŋ ˈkiː]. Words such as will, have, and is regularly contract to ’ll [l], ’ve [v], and s [z] (or [s] depending on context). Of these ’ll and s are, like ’n, sometimes pronounced without any adjoining vowel, as in It's not.
- "Y, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 4 October 2012.
- "How to beat everyone at board games this Christmas". Yorkshire Post. Johnston Press Plc. December 21, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
- "Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- "The Longest Word in the Collins English Dictionary". Collins Dictionary website. 4 April 2012.
- Smith, R. Kent (2012). Building Vocabulary for College. Cengage. p. 2.
- "TV Tonight". Intelligencer. September 16, 2004.
"Rhythm" and "syzygy" are the longest English words without vowels.
- Todd, Richard Watson (2007). Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating other examples are: sky fly by try Language. Nicholas Brealey.
- "W, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 4 October 2012.
- Rogers, Bruce (1999). You Can Say That Again!: A Fun Approach to Sounding Better When You Open Your Mouth to Speak. Dumdum. p. 104.
- Alan Peterson (December 27, 1986). "Why The Silly Season Can Be A Bit Short On Fun". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 24. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
- Charlie Fidelman (May 28, 1992). "War Of The Words". Montreal Gazette (Canada). p. G8.
Others memorize words without vowels: "crwth" for example, which means an ancient string instrument. Another is "phpht", defined as an interjection.
- Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, 1954
- Viva Sarah Press (February 15, 1999). "At Scrabble club, politics get no score: Jerusalem group, founded by ex-Montrealer, unites Israelis from across the spectrum". Montreal Gazette. p. A18.
- "Are there any English words that have no vowels?". Dictionary.com Word FAQs. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Katamba, Francis (2004). English Words: Structure, History, Usage. Routledge. p. 78.