An English pangram is a sentence that contains each of the 26 letters used in English, the classic example being `the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.' What I am looking for is precisely the opposite. I am looking for meaningful English phrases or sentences that contain very few distinct letters, preferably 8 or less.

A small example is the computer science phrase `hello world' which is meaningful and contains only 7 distinct letters (h,e,l,o,w,r,d). Is there a repository containing examples of similar phrases, or can Stack Exchange users generate their own?

Why would you want such phrases?

I am mathematician and I plan to teach a group of high school about Huffman codes. A Huffman code is a code for converting letters into binary (0s and 1s). Given a sentence (or passage, or book) the coding is chosen so as to minimize the total number of binary digits needed. So for example, in English the letter E is very frequent and the letter Z is not; one might then assign the letter E the short binary sequence 110, and the letter Z the longer sequence 111100101. That way when you convert a book into binary you will use fewer digits than if, say, you had assigned 111100101 to E and 110 to Z.

In working through examples in class, the tediousness of generating the code is directly proportional to the number of distinct letters contained in the passage one is encoding. Roughly speaking, the fewer letters present, the shorter the code book needs to be. English sentences containing few distinct letters would, for this reason, be great examples to Huffman encode.

  • For words, you could take a look at this: srufaculty.sru.edu/david.dailey/words/longrepeats.html As a friendly warning, this question might be closed as too broad or off-topic. – RaceYouAnytime May 4 '17 at 22:38
  • You can certainly make up some. With he help of the link from the above comment, I just came up with meseems Mississippi is missing its nesting enmities (eight letters and almost makes sense). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 4 '17 at 22:55
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    You could do worse than look at tongue twisters. For example She sells sea shells on the sea shore (9 letters s,h,e,l,a,o,n,t,r) and Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers (13 letters p,e,t,r,i,a,c,k,o,f,d,l,s). These are difficult to say because of the repeated letters. – BoldBen May 4 '17 at 23:11
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    Folks, keep in mind that the trick is to have meaningful sentences. – Hot Licks May 5 '17 at 1:19
  • Do you need 20 or 2000? – aparente001 May 5 '17 at 6:07

Sounds like a fun lesson you have planned.

The trick here is to find words with repeated letters, and alliteration and assonance help.

Your hello world example had 7 letters, so I created some phrases with less than 7 letters:

  1. An assassin sins (4 letters)
  2. Eleven elves (5 letters)
  3. Free the referee (5 letters)
  4. Twitter tweet (5 letters)
  5. Catch the cat (5 letters)
  6. Hum drum (5 letters)
  7. I rent tents (5 letters)
  8. Groggy puppy (6 letters)
  9. No inhibition (6 letters)
  10. Beekeepers keep bees (6 letters)

Here is a resource from professor David Singmaster at puzzlemuseum.com which lists (among other things) words with repeating letters, categorized by word length which might assist you if you want to create any more.

  • Dear Ed read a rare deed ere Dad err. :) (a,d,e, r) Ad read, adder are dreaded, dear are dead. (you could burn a lot of time thinking this kind of thing up). Ed added Dad (3) . I did. (2) – Tom22 May 5 '17 at 3:19
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    Thank you Gary! The last example is very nice, and in addition I discovered another phrase "seek perks" which uses the same set of letters, which helps with designing a lesson using the same letter bank. – James Fennell May 11 '17 at 18:58
  • 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9 aren’t actual sentences, but just expressions. – Wrzlprmft Jul 19 '17 at 9:30

This one has four distinct letters:

Madam, I'm Adam.

It's also notable because it is a palindrome, and it was also the first sentence uttered by a human being (joke).


As sentences need a verb, the strategical approach to this is to first consider verbs with as few letters as possible, i.e., two. Then it’s an easy programming task to find further words using only those two letters. Finally, you have see whether you can arrange those words to a meaningful sentence.

Using this strategy, I found the following sentences with only two distinctt letters (ignoring capitalisation):

  • Add Dada, dad.

    A father is asked to incorporate a style into some piece of art.

  • Isis is Isis.
    Sissi’s sis is Sissi’s sis.

    It is asserted that somebody named Isis or the sister of somebody named Sissi acted according to their nature.

  • Toot, Otto!

    An elephant named Otto is asked to produce a sound.

  • Pee, Pepe!

    Somebody named Pepe is asked to urinate.

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