Culture 5 min read

What is the Shortest English Word?

Why does English have shorter words compared to other languages? What are the shortest words in English? Learn how short words improve readability.

Image courtesy of Rawpixel.com | Shutterstock.com

Image courtesy of Rawpixel.com | Shutterstock.com

Readability is a huge part of writing engaging content that converts. There are tons of content tools and techniques out there to help you improve readability. One of the best ways to increase readability is to write shorter sentences. You can also use shorter words.

We want to help take your content game to the next level with the shortest English words. And, maybe even help you one-up a friend in Scrabble.

“An Honest Tale Speeds Best, Being Plainly Told”

William Shakespeare,  King Richard III, Act 4, Scene 4

This quotation is nice a way of saying that it’s better to get straight to the point. So without further ado, let’s get into some of the shortest words in English.

What is the Shortest Word in English?

The shortest words in the English language are “a” and “I”. They are two vowels. They are also the only single-letter words in English. Even though it’s less common, some also consider “O” another single-letter word. This is an interjection found in poetry and prayers. The shortest English word that contains all five vowels is “eunoia“. Like “euphoria”, it originates from Greek and connotes a positive feeling.

Great, but what does it mean? Ever had to give a presentation and heard the phrase “get a feel for the audience”? Or, “gauge the crowd”?

“Eunoia” refers to a positive rapport between the speaker and the audience. Next time you speak in public and are on a roll, call that good vibe what it is.

To find the shortest words with two letters, start with “a” and add letters in alphabetical order. And, surprise! We find our first two-letter unit with meaning right at the very beginning of the alphabet: Aa is a word describing a type of lava.

Here, a word is an individual linguistic unit with meaning. According to this definition, we have two winners. These two are ex aequo or two single-letter words.

But Dictionary.com lists five meanings for every letter in the English alphabet. Each one could be considered as a word. Each could also claim the title of the shortest word in English.

But why do English words seem shorter when compared to other languages?

Why English Words are Shorter vs. Other Languages

First, English is a peculiar language. It’s one of the most concise and versatile. Short words contribute to that.

As James Nicoll put it:

We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.

Like all languages, English has evolved greatly over the centuries to arrive at what it is today.

A cartoon that depicts a famous James Nicoll quotation about short English words.
“Nouning and verbing” courtesy of Mark Liberman | languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu

English has a low morpheme per word ratio. This is because it is an isolating language. This means it uses supplemental words to convey meaning, having plenty of single-morpheme words.

English lacks some non-constructive features found in other languages.

For instance, in French, parler means “to speak” and it’s implied to an infinitive without a “to”-like an independent article.

Stan in Czech means “a tent”. If you want to say “to a tent” you use stanu, or three separate words against a single one for the same meaning.

Examples of Popular Short English Words

There are other distinguishing features in English. These features might be present in other languages. But they aren’t as strong. Abbreviations and acronyms in English are one such feature that affects letter count. This also leads to shorter words.

Laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is one of the most famous acronyms that is also used in many other languages.

We also have radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging).

Other examples include:

  • advertisement
  • examination
  • necktie
  • influenza
  • brassiere

There are tons more examples that have become words in their own right.

Why Using Shorter Words Matters for Content

In the last two decades, the internet has become huge part of our daily lives. Some people are online almost constantly.

It seems that the more time people spend online, the more their attention span declines. More and more new content hits the net non-stop, and people read less and less of it.

A color-blocked image of Shakespeare with a bright pink cone emanating from his mouth with the words

Instead of reading and internalizing, we tend to skim.

To that end, making your content as digestible as possible helps ensure your audience actually reads it. Readability is key in making content more accessible. Readability is also one of the most important things search engines consider when deciding which content deserves to be seen.

The more readable content is, the more digestible it is. The more digestible the content, the more people can benefit from that information. And, the more users can engage with your work.

Help create the longest list of shortest words in English! Post your favorite as a comment here.

First AI Web Content Optimization Platform Just for Writers

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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