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English orthography typically represents vowel sounds with the five conventional vowel letters ⟨a, e, i, o, u⟩, as well as ⟨y⟩, which may also be a consonant depending on context. However, outside of abbreviations, there are a handful of words in English that do not have vowels, either because the vowel sounds are not written with vowel letters or because the words themselves are pronounced without vowel sounds.


Words without written vowelsEdit

There are very few lexical words (that is, not counting interjections) without vowel letters. The longest such lexical word is tsktsks,[1] pronounced /ˌtɪskˈtɪsks/. The mathematical expression nth /ˈɛnθ/, as in delighted to the nth degree, is in fairly common usage.[2] Another mathematical term without vowel letters is rng /ˈrʌŋ/, derived from ring by deleting the letter ⟨i⟩. A more obscure example is ln.

Vowelless proper names from other languages, such as the surname Ng, may retain their original spelling, even if they are pronounced with vowels.

In the Middle English period, there were no standard spellings, but ⟨w⟩ was sometimes used to represent either a vowel or a consonant sound in the same way that Modern English does with ⟨y⟩, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. This vocalic ⟨w⟩ generally represented /uː/,[3][4] as in wss ("use").[5] However at that time the form ⟨w⟩ was still sometimes used to represent a digraph ⟨uu⟩ (see W), not as a separate letter. This practice exists in modern Welsh orthography so that words borrowed from Welsh may use ⟨w⟩ this way, such as:

  • The crwth[6] (pronounced /ˈkrʊθ/ or /ˈkruːθ/ and also spelled cruth in English) is a Welsh musical instrument similar to the violin:[7]
He intricately rhymes, to the music of crwth and pibgorn.[8]
  • cwtch (a hiding place or cubby hole) is also from Welsh (albeit a recent word influenced by English, and used almost exclusively in the variant of English spoken in Wales, not in standard English), and crwth and cwtch are the longest English dictionary words without ⟨a, e, i, o, u, y⟩ according to Collins Dictionary.[9]
  • A cwm[10] (pronounced /ˈkuːm/) is used in English in a technical geographical or mountaineering context to mean a deep hollow in a mountainous area, usually with steep edges on some sides, like a corrie or cirque, such as the Western Cwm of Mount Everest. It is also sometimes used, by way of more recent borrowing from Welsh, in a more general sense of a valley. The spellings coombe, combe, coomb, and comb come from the Old English cumb,[11] which appears either to be a much earlier borrowing from a predecessor of modern Welsh, or to have an even earlier origin, given that there was an ancient Greek word κὑμβη (kumbē) meaning a hollow vessel.[12] In English literature, one can find the spellings combe (as in Ilfracombe and Castle Combe), coomb (as in J. R. R. Tolkien) or comb (as in Alfred, Lord Tennyson).

There are also numerous vowelless interjections and onomatopoeia found more or less frequently, including brr (brrr is occasionally accepted[clarification needed]), bzzt, grrr, hm, hmm, mm, mmm, mhmm, pfft, pht, phpht,[7] psst, sh, shh, zzz.

Words without vowel soundsEdit

Weak forms of function words may be realized without vowel sounds, as in I can go [aɪ kŋ̍ ˈɡoʊ] and I must sell [aɪ ms̩ ˈsɛl].[13] Some of these forms are reflected in orthography as contractions, such as 's, 'll, 'd, and n't. (These can invoke syllabic consonants.)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "How to beat everyone at board games this Christmas". Yorkshire Post. Johnston Press Plc. December 21, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  2. ^ "Are there any English words that have no vowels?". Word FAQs. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  3. ^ "Y, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 4 October 2012.
  4. ^ "W, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 4 October 2012.
  5. ^ Rogers, Bruce (1999). You Can Say That Again!: A Fun Approach to Sounding Better When You Open Your Mouth to Speak. Dumdum. p. 104.
  6. ^ Alan Peterson (December 27, 1986). "Why The Silly Season Can Be A Bit Short On Fun". Saturday Review. The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 24. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Charlie Fidelman (May 28, 1992). "War Of The Words". News. Montreal Gazette. p. G8. Others memorize words without vowels: "crwth" for example, which means an ancient string instrument. Another is "phpht", defined as an interjection.
  8. ^ Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, 1954
  9. ^ "The Longest Word in the Collins English Dictionary". Collins Dictionary website. 4 April 2012.
  10. ^ 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". News. Montreal Gazette. p. A18.
  11. ^ Chambers Dictionary
  12. ^ Liddell & Scott
  13. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Johnson, Keith (2010). A Course in Phonetics (6th ed.). Wadsworth. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-42823126-9.