Can you list a few polysyllabic words that only have one vowel (not including y, since it is viewed as a vowel in some words)?

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    Since vowels are the nuclei of consonants, I think you may have a hard time finding any such words. A case may be made for the second consonant in words like little and better, but liquids (l, r) can act as vowels, even if school children never learn so. – Anonym Jan 6 '16 at 23:44
  • Is this a homework question? – Alan Munn Jan 7 '16 at 0:08
  • No, actually. Believe it or not, I'm just genuinely curious. – T S Jan 7 '16 at 0:11
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    I've heard Aussie kids stretch "No!" into three syllables. – Gnawme Jan 7 '16 at 0:14
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    Do you mean orthographically (spelled with) one vowel, or phonetically (spoken with)? – JEL Jan 7 '16 at 0:43

I understood your question in a completely different way. If this is not the answer you were hoping for, I'm sorry, and I hope you enjoy these words anyway. This sentence contains seven polysyllabic words with only one vowel.

The men flee these entrenchments where legless men bleed.The severed members, strewn helter-skelter, redden the cerements.

This is a quotation from EUNOIA by Christian Bők; page 45. Every page sticks to one vowel for about a dozen lines. Now p.59

Old colophons on schoolbooks sport rococo scrolls on worn morocco.

  • +1 There's a fantastic story in the Armada Funny Story book that only has the vowel A in it! Nice post :) – Araucaria Jan 7 '16 at 1:24

A syllable is normally thought of as being a peak in sonority. Sonority can be understood as something like "musical loudness".

Vowels are considered to be more sonorous than consonants, because they are perceived as consisting of a pitch or note without any (or much) frication / turbulence. Pitch is that sense of a sound clearly having a high or low note. These sounds have periodic (regularly repeating) waveforms.

In English, the nasal consonants and the approximants /m, n, ŋ, l, r, w, j/ are thought to be the next most sonorant group of sounds. They also basically involve periodic wave forms, although there is some sort of obstruction meaning that the air doesn't leave absolutely freely through the mouth.

Next there are sounds with pitch and turbulence together. So these have waveforms which are a mixture of periodic and aperiodic waves. In other words you will see a regular, repeating pattern overlaid by random messy waves (or you can think of it the other way round if you'd like). The important thing is that you get both of those together. So you get a messy frictiony sound like air escaping from a pipe overlaid with a kind of musical note. Some examples are /v, z, ʒ/

Lastly, you get sounds that have no pitch at all. They just involve turbulence in the air. You can think of these sounds literally as air escaping through a hole in a pipe. (This is actually exactly what they are!) Some examples are /f, s, ʃ/.

Syllabic consonants

Some syllables in English can be realised by an occurrence of one of the nasal consonants /m, n, ŋ/ (that last sound is the last sound in "sing") or the liquid approximants /l/ or /r/.

So, for example, the word bottle /bɒtl̩/ has two syllables. The first has the vowel /ɒ/. The second syllable often consists just of the sound /l/. It doesn't have a vowel. We still perceive this as being a syllable even though it doesn't have a vowel, because [l] is much more sonorant than [t]. So after the vowel /ɒ/ we have /t/, which isn't at all sonorant - and then we get an increasing sonorance with the /l/. There are therefore two peaks of sonorance in this type of pronunciation of the word bottle. So we perceive two syllables. But there is only one true vowel.

Polysyllabic words with (potentially) only one vowel

Here's a few words which are often pronounced with only one vowel. Once you spot the kind of pattern you'll be able to think of thousands of others:

  • button
  • mitten
  • prism
  • chasm
  • nettle
  • angle
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    All your examples have two vowel sounds. That second vowel is called 'schwa', and each of your words have it. Some dictionaries omit it, but this one doesn't: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prism – Fae Jan 7 '16 at 11:38
  • @Faemu Ah, if you read my post carefully, you'll see that I say "Here's a few words which are often pronounced with only one vowel." In each of these words there is the possibility of either a syllabic consonant or a schwa plus consonant combination. If you look in a dictionary with good transcriptions, you'll see a little superscript 'ə' before the consonant. What this means is that the schwa is optional in this word. Here is the page for prism from Cambridge Dictionaries. If you look there you'll see what I'm talking about. – Araucaria Jan 7 '16 at 11:48
  • @Faemu You may find this post interesting – Araucaria Jan 7 '16 at 11:49
  • @Faemu ...and in actual fact most of those words are more often pronounced with a syllabic consonant than with a schwa! For example, if you say the word nettle your tongue will make continuous contact during the /t/ and /l/ stages - unless you are two years old! – Araucaria Jan 7 '16 at 11:52

It uses y as a vowel, but the y is the only vowel: "Rhythm" (two syllables).


I just thought of another one: "World" (two syllables). In as much as some sources say it's only one syllable, in most of America it's pronounced as two: WER-uld.

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    "World" is monosyllabic where I come from. – Colin Fine Jan 7 '16 at 0:39
  • In some places it is. In the UK, it is: "wuhld" or "wehld." Dictionaries can become very self-contradicting and nonsensical when it comes to syllable count. For example, dictionaries say "hire" is one syllable, but "higher" is two syllables, although both words are pronounced identically nearly everywhere. – Benjamin Harman Jan 7 '16 at 0:44
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    I'm not sure why someone voted this down. Rhytm absolutely is two syllables. The dictionary lists its pronunciation as: [rith -uh m] – Benjamin Harman Jan 7 '16 at 0:47
  • In my (UK) dialect, hire and higher are homophones in isolation, but before a vowel higher remains bisyllabic, but hire (eg in hire a car) is monosyllabic. – Colin Fine Jan 7 '16 at 0:51
  • But that's just a spelling convention. The pronunciation has two syllables, therefore is has two pronounced vowels. – Mitch Jan 7 '16 at 12:50

Why insist on even one? Why not go for zero:

crwth has both a monosyllabic and bisyllabic pronunciation. This cheats though by taking your question overly-literally and assuming your saying "not including y" means you are only excluding that letter and the letters that are typically vowels, namely a, e, i, o & u. In crwth the w is a vowel, used as w is used as a vowel in Welsh, from which crwth is a loan-word.

Likewise, tsktsk has no "vowel" letters and is bi-syllabic, but it does contain vowels in that it is pronounced /ˌtɪskˈtɪsk/.

To look at it the other way, if spoken in a rhotic dialect, and if you consider the [ɹ̩] of such dialects a syllabic consonant rather than a vowel, then burglar, turtle and many other words have no vowels.

From this beginning of zero we can easily have one:

crwth but acknowledging that w is a vowel.

burgled (though even this could perhaps be spoken with no vowels).

  • Nice! How exactly do you pronounce 'crwth' though? I don't see the second syllable. – Mitch Jan 7 '16 at 12:55
  • @Mitch, "cruth" or "cru-th". – Jon Hanna Jan 7 '16 at 12:58
  • Oh. That sounds like a single syllable to me. – Mitch Jan 7 '16 at 14:25
  1. Power
  2. Tower
  3. Flower
  4. Prayer

There must be some others, but these spring to mind immediately.


“ Fred is a two-syllable word. ”

That's a quote from the actor who voiced Wilma Flintstone, quoting herself, almost two full paragraphs below the heading ‘ The Flintstones ’ at:

To hear is to believe:

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