What's the longest sentence you can make in English using only three letters of the alphabet?
February 20, 2011 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What's the longest sentence you can make in English using only three letters of the alphabet?

In Icelandic you can, using only the letters A, B and R write:
Barbara Ara bar Ara Araba rabarbara
(Which means Barbara [the daughter of] Ari served rhubarb to Ari the Arab)

What is the English equivalent? I'm sure someone's worked this out, but I haven't been able to Google it.
posted by Kattullus to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
related: Christian Bok: Eunoia
posted by ovvl at 11:31 AM on February 20, 2011


According to George Carlin, it's "I do".

However, more in the spirit of what you're asking I would offer this:
Settees see tse-tse's testes set test tees.
posted by flug at 11:36 AM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


No idea if there's a canonical answer. After a bit of thinking, I came up with:
"I nip in; pin Pippin" which is slightly cheating with the semi-colon I think, but I'm sure someone can do better. I'm pretty sure you want to use "i" for the vowel so you can have I on it's own and in combination.
posted by crocomancer at 11:37 AM on February 20, 2011


I did aid dad.
posted by Crane Shot at 11:41 AM on February 20, 2011


I think a sentence of which a big chunk is a proper name "Barbara Ara" is kind of cheating actually.

I got:

Tot Toto got to go 'toot! toot!' too.
posted by vacapinta at 11:41 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anaca, can a canna can cancan a cancan?

(Anaca is a proper name, canna is a plant.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:44 AM on February 20, 2011


I would add that, for bonus points, "Settees see tse-tse's testes set test tees" is a devil of a tongue twister. It's fairly easy to make three-letter sentences of various lengths by putting the three letters (in various quantities) into the Anagram Server to get lists of possible words. A couple more examples made using this method:
Dad's sad ass adds sass.

Dad, Dan, Ann, and Dana add a naan ad.
More to the point of your question, it might be worth asking the the folks at wordsmith.org the question, as it is the type of thing they might be interested in.
posted by flug at 11:55 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I fit if I fit it, if I fit it I tiff, if I tiff I fit.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:56 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tot Toto got to go 'toot! toot!' to Otto too.
posted by tomjoadsghost at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not quite the answer to the question, but you can make a proper sentence in English out of any number of repetitions of the word "buffalo", only varying capitalization.
posted by jozxyqk at 12:16 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, here's some raw material: the three letter sets that get you the most possible words (according to Ubuntu's default "American English" wordlist, at least).

A decent number of these seem to be acronyms or proper nouns, or the names of letters themselves. So, no good for Scrabble, but fine for putting together a tongue twister.
  • ESL (22): 'sees', 'less', 'see', 'lessees', 'sells', 'es', 'sell', 'eels', 'le', 'lees', 'ell', 'ls', 'lee', 'else', 'les', 'ells', 'e', 'lessee', 'l', 'eel', 's', 'se'
  • EST (21): 'tests', 'set', 'e', 'testes', 'settee', 'settees', 'see', 'st', 'tee', 's', 'ts', 'es', 'sets', 'test', 'estes', 'sees', 'tess', 'tet', 'tees', 'se', 't'
  • OST (21): 'tots', 'too', 'tot', 'tost', 'to', 'soto', 'toto', 'toot', 'o', 'st', 'toss', 'sots', 's', 'ts', 'so', 't', 'otto', 'soot', 'toots', 'os', 'sot'
  • AMN (21): 'a', 'nan', 'ana', 'annam', 'm', 'ann', 'mn', 'am', 'n', 'ma', 'manama', 'mamma', 'mann', 'mama', 'amman', 'an', 'na', 'nam', 'manna', 'anna', 'man'
  • AHS (21): 'a', 'ass', 'aha', 'hash', 'sass', 'has', 'h', 'ha', 'ahas', 'shahs', 's', 'sasha', 'ah', 'as', 'sh', 'hah', 'haas', 'shah', 'ash', 'sash', 'hahs'
  • ERS (21): 'seers', 'e', 'seer', 'err', 'ere', 'sr', 'rs', 'erse', 'seres', 're', 's', 'r', 'serer', 'reese', 'see', 'errs', 'se', 'sees', 'sere', 'es', 'er'
  • ADN (20): 'a', 'and', 'dad', 'ana', 'na', 'ann', 'nan', 'dada', 'add', 'n', 'nd', 'adana', 'dana', 'adan', 'ada', 'ad', 'an', 'dan', 'anna', 'd'
  • AMS (20): 'a', 'amass', 'mamas', 'mas', 'ma', 'sm', 'sam', 'm', 'am', 's', 'sass', 'assam', 'as', 'mass', 'ms', 'mama', 'mamma', 'ass', 'mammas', 'asama'

posted by nebulawindphone at 12:20 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Per nebulawindphone's list, looks like we missed the first one in this thread:

Elle sells eels else Elle sees eels, see?
posted by vacapinta at 12:25 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Elle's eels see less; Les's eels sell less.
posted by flug at 12:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


A shah's ass has sass; Sasha's ass has hash.

If it makes you feel better, several of those above are as long or longer than the Barbara Ara example and about equal in terms of making sense.
posted by flug at 12:59 PM on February 20, 2011


Mammas amass sass, mammas amass mass, mammas amass ass.

I am, I aim, I maim, Mamma.
posted by flug at 1:14 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to be a wet blanket, but to a certain extent sentence lengths are limitless. For example, here is a potentially infinite sentence comprising only three letters:

Dan and Dan and Dan and Dan and Dan (etc. for infinite instances of people named Dan) add.
posted by threeants at 1:30 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think you should have it constrained to no repeating words, otherwise anything could be strung together infinitely (like threeants points out).

Sass mamas amass, a Ms. mamma's ass.
posted by suedehead at 9:25 PM on February 20, 2011


vacapinta's example easily generalizes to an abitrarily long sentence as well:

Tot Toto got to go 'toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot! toot!' too.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:06 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is not only three letters, but it's in a similar vein so might be of interest:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

means...

THE buffalo FROM Buffalo WHO ARE buffaloed BY buffalo FROM Buffalo, buffalo OTHER buffalo FROM Buffalo.

Description & more details from the venerable Pioneer Woman.
posted by hansbrough at 10:46 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Er, buffalo has um, six letters.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2011


Yes, I know -- as I said, my example was more than three letters, but I thought the OP might be interested in it since it's kind of a similar thing.
posted by hansbrough at 1:51 PM on February 21, 2011


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