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What is the shortest comprehensive sentence in English?

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  • 7
    Voting to close on the grounds this is not a constructive question. A sentence could be, for example, an answer to someone asking "What's the first [or n'th] letter of the alphabet?" Jul 17, 2011 at 13:32
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Well true in an orthographic sense, but not in terms of grammar, where we often distinguish fragments from sentences. A one-word reply such as "cheese" or "two" would normally thus be considered a fragment, not a sentence :) Jul 2, 2015 at 14:19
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not constructive. Jul 2, 2015 at 14:40
  • Implied subjects, however obvious the context might make them are not a component of the sentence, therefore rendering the sentence incomplete for lack of a subject. Context might make the complete thought obvious and at times, getting the gist of your thought across in a timely manner is preferable to absolute clarity, hence the "imperative". However the purpose of a "complete sentence" as it is usually meant, is that it linguistically conveys an entire thought without ambiguity and that is something imperative sentences do not do by themselves. How would someone measure context anyway?
    – Tonepoet
    Jul 2, 2015 at 16:27
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    @Tonepoet one could argue language can never convey an entire thought without ambiguity. I'd say a sentence is complete when it is possible to understand.
    – jiggunjer
    Dec 21, 2016 at 7:56

17 Answers 17

46

"Go."

The understood subject is "You". "[You] go" makes sense to me.

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    "Go" (imperative) is in fact the more common form than "You go", so it makes even more sense than "You go". Aug 7, 2010 at 16:55
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    @ShreevatsaR: "You" is the understood subject of imperatives.
    – moioci
    Aug 9, 2010 at 14:48
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    @moioci: Yes, I know. I was just pointing out that in actual usage, it's more usual to actually drop the subject "You", and more common forms are more likely to be understood. Aug 9, 2010 at 20:23
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One could argue that in certain contexts, the single letter "I" is a sentence (depending on your definition of a sentence):

"Who is it?"

"I"

This (one letter) is the shortest possible, unless you count the "empty utterance". ;-)

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    Shouldn't it be "Me."? Short for "It is me." Sep 14, 2010 at 18:04
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    You could also say "I" if someone asks, "what is the ninth letter of the alphabet?"
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 14, 2010 at 19:20
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    @Picturepocket: No, because it's actually short for "It is I." A predicate nominative is grammatically supposed to be the subjective form of the pronoun (e.g. "I", "he") as opposed to the objective form ("me", "him"), despite the fact that casual English often uses the latter.
    – Maulrus
    Sep 14, 2010 at 19:45
  • Also a shorter form of "I am", where "am" is understood in response to a question.
    – tsilb
    Aug 9, 2011 at 16:35
  • @Picturepocket, one way to check is determine which is correct in a group, and vice versa. So "It is Joe and I" is the correct form, therefore "It is I" is correct. No, as correct as it sounds, you don't say "It is Joe and me". Aug 9, 2012 at 23:22
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It is said both the longest and the shortest sentence comes from the wedding ceremony:

I do.

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    This is a joke answer.
    – tmj
    Apr 16, 2019 at 13:10
14

"Be!"

The verb "to be" in the imperative mood. Though it's the same number of letters as "Go!", I'd say it wins as it comes first alphabetically. ;)

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    Plus it evokes somewhat philosophical associations. ;-) Aug 7, 2010 at 18:19
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    I'm feeling existentially angsty.
    – Charlie
    Aug 7, 2010 at 18:26
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    How do you disobey this one? Jun 18, 2011 at 20:55
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"No!" works perfectly, in my opinion.

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  • It is a response to another sentence. Aug 20, 2010 at 18:50
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    Not necessarily. What if you see a toddler running towards an open fire (or something really dangerous at any rate)?
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 20, 2010 at 19:09
  • It depends on what one considers a complete sentence.
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 14, 2010 at 19:30
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    Just because it expresses a complete thought doesn't necessarily make it a sentence.
    – eds
    Sep 14, 2010 at 19:31
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    This one isn't very short if Darth Vader just found out about Padme...
    – Ghotir
    Jun 15, 2016 at 15:41
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This.

That is the shortest, in number of words, complete English sentence that directly answers your question.

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    How utterly profound! Aug 9, 2012 at 23:18
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    This is by far the best answer, especially when the number of one-syllable, one-word answers keeps growing. May 6, 2015 at 3:47
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I don't know if it even qualifies in this context, but according to the story, an author (variously Oscar Wilde or Victor Hugo), wondering how his new book was selling, sent a single-character telegram to his publisher:

?

The reply was

!

that is, well.

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    Very famous story, about Oscar Wilde.
    – The Raven
    Jul 17, 2011 at 13:59
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    @TheRaven: It's apocryphal. You here it just as often about Victor Hugo, and there's equal evidence to support either version -- none at all. Jun 9, 2012 at 9:39
  • I've heard it about Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother, season 4 epsiode 1)
    – Luke
    Mar 19, 2013 at 5:15
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The shortest sentence in the entire English Language, is the reply:

I.

It is a reply to the question: "Who is it?" Reply: "I."

That's shorter than "Go!"

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I would vote for "I am."

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    This was actually my first thought, but then I kept thinking. I still like it, though. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 7, 2010 at 23:37
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"I sentence you to time already served. You are free to go."

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3

"O!"

As a variant of the exclamation "Oh!", an interjection of fear, surprise, admiration, etc.

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?

Even better than that, contemplate (the pithy, wholly implied) section 7.1 of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (as translated from the original German):

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It obviously can't be less than three letters (**.) and still be a complete thought.

  • Go.
  • Hi!
  • Ho! (same as "Hi")

This doesn't include responses since they require other sentences.

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    And if we are talking about the shortest spoken complete sentence, then something like Cut. could be the shortest, because [kʊt] just has a single lax vowel and two stops, while "go" [goʊ], "hi" [haɪ], and "ho" [hoʊ] are all diphthongs, which makes them take a fraction of a second longer to say :)
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 14, 2010 at 19:29
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    A period is not a letter, it is a punctuation mark.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 1, 2014 at 1:33
1

Since you already have many sweet, and short, answers I can only speculate on your intentions and provide, possibly, interesting link to one word sentences.

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Eh?

Used to represent a sound made in speech, especially one used to express enquiry, surprise, or to elicit agreement

[ODO]

0

It depends on how you define sentence and then how you define shortest. The answer does not appear to be Go, though (although that's quite a good shot at an answer).

The question uses the phrase complete sentence from which we can probably assume that the Original Poster is referring to a fully grammatical utterance headed by a finite verb.

With regards to shortest, there are at least two ways we could measure this. We could do it orthographically, in which case the sentence with the fewest letters would probably be the imperative of the verb 'X' (pronounced /eks/). Although usually used transitively, as in the Mark Twain quote:

  • 'I shell have to x this ere paragrab,' said he to himself, as he read it over.'

... it could easily be used intransitively too:

  • A. What shall I do now?
  • B. X! [meaning "start crossing out"]

However, although 'X' contains only one orthographic symbol, in terms of sound it consists of three segments: /eks/. So, if by shortest sentence, we mean shortest in terms of segments, then this word wouldn't do. The sentence Go has one consonant sound plus a diphthong - /gəʊ/ in Southern standard British English and /goʊ/ in General American. We could regard this as having either two or three segments. However, it is plainly obvious that this could be shorter. The reason is we also have a verb owe which has exactly the same sound without the /g/, namely /əʊ/ or /oʊ/. However, it is quite hard to use this verb without a following complement, and so an imperative sentence might be a bit implausible: Owe!.

A better contender in terms of segments might be the verb OOH meaning to make an ooh sound, as in the audience oohed and aahed. So if you were in the audience at one of those sitcoms where the audience were directed to laugh, clap, ooh and aah, one of the directions you might get, could feasibly be the imperative:

  • Ooh!

This fully complete one word sentence consists only of the one vowel. In phonemic script it looks like this: /u:/. This then might be a contender for the shortest sentence in English. But of course there are others. For example there is always:

  • Aah!

... which looks like this: /a:/!

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  • You could also have the “ah!” of realisation, which is usually just a short /a/. Or a grunt of non-committal /m/. Jul 4, 2015 at 11:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet But would that count as a sentence as opposed to a fragment? Jul 4, 2015 at 11:56
  • If you're ordering the same audience to make a non-committal sound, sure. Jul 4, 2015 at 11:59
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I see, hmmm, possibly, but I reckon that might have to be give us an 'mm' or something :) Jul 4, 2015 at 12:00
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I was wondering if a word with a short vowel followed by a fortis consonant might be shorter still - i.e. the fortis consonant would clip the length of the vowel considerably. And if it was a stop, the length of the hold phase wouldn't really count as part of the audible word ? What d'you reckong? Jul 4, 2015 at 12:14
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No.

Also

Q: Which is the fifth letter of the alphabet? A: E.

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