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The longest monosyllable

July 28, 2019

Two old friends of mine – Mr David Alterman and Mr Jams O’Donnell – have been in touch with thoughts about the longest one-syllable word in English. Dave offers stretched, at nine letters, and Jamie matches that with screeched and scrunched. Is nine letters the upper limit?

I think I am right in saying that there are no consonant clusters of more than three letters in English. Clusters that typically go at the beginning of words include str-, scr-, sch-, spl-, chr- and phl-. Then there are some other three-letters clusters that are used in the middle or at the end of words: -tch, -nch, -mph, – ght and so on. Then there are also a number of two-vowel clusters, such as -ee, -ea, -oo, -oa and the rest. So it would be possible to have a word that opened with a three-letter consonant cluster, went on to a double-vowel cluster, proceeded to another three-consonant cluster, and ended in –ed for the past tense, which would add another two letters but no extra syllable: making ten letters in all. For example, phlootched. Except that phlootched is not a word. I don’t know whether there are actually are any ten-letter monsoyllables, but there could be. Write in if you know any.

Let’s finish with a quiz. What three-letter word of one syllable can be turned into a three-syllable word by the addition of one letter?

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  1. Four consonant cluster in phthisis.

  2. Quiz answer: letterbox?

  3. Or, how about ide (sort of fish) and idea?

  4. Four letter consonant cluster: ichthyosaur etc.

  5. And another one from my classics past: chthonic

  6. Simon Carter permalink

    I think it was Bill Bryson who offered up ”tchphr” as being almost unpronounceable for English speakers until rendered as “catchphrase”. There was also “tchst” from “matchstick”.

    • Hi Simon. Yes, good cluster. I now regret my hastiness in saying ‘I think I am right in saying that there are no consonant clusters of more than three letters in English’. (Seeing it written down like that I imagine it being said in a pompous, prissy, know-all manner whose certainty glosses over rank ignorance.)

      However, returning to the point about syllables: the cluster tchphr could only be said as part of a two-syllable utterance: it is really two clusters placed together, one which ends the first syllable and the other which begins the second. The same is true of tchst.

  7. Simon Carter permalink

    You’re right of course Brandon. Another nice one occurs in Knightsbridge. I suppose they’re examples of the importance of context!

  8. Simon Carter permalink

    Sorry, I meant right in your explanation not the way you might have sounded. Context again.

  9. Got it! Are and area!

  10. Yes, you’re right. Give that man a coconut!

  11. Simon Carter permalink

    If proper nouns are included there is also Oreo.

  12. Mark Allan Brafield permalink

    Sorry to completely lower the tone, but this puts me in mind of a rag week joke I heard in my first week at university, which still – I am sorry to say – makes me laugh;

    ‘What word begins with ‘n’, ends with ‘n’, has thirteen letters and is to do with constipation ?’

    Answer –


  13. That’s a great joke. And thanks for the Kylie/Rees-Mogg factoid!

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