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In English, there are a few words that sound the same as a single letter. Some are spelled with a single letter ("I", "a") while others are just pronounced that way ("eye", "cue", "why").

How many of these words exist in Latin? I mentioned a few in another answer, but already off the top of my head I can think of more once we allow consonants. I'm curious how full of an alphabet one can make.

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This answer is based on this question and answer concerning the classical names of the letters. Given the pronunciation of a Latin word, there is typically a unique spelling (unlike in English!) so the exercise is pretty straightforward.

Yes:

  • ā: preposition
  • dē: preposition
  • ē: preposition
  • ī: imperative of ire
  • ō: interjection
  • ĕs: form of esse
  • tē: form of te
  • ĕx or ĭx: preposition (ex)

No (with near hits):

  • bē: noun bes, forms of beare
  • cē: imperative cie
  • ĕf: Perhaps one could argue that ex is pronounced as ef before a word starting with f, as in compounds we have efficere and others.
  • gē: One might Latinize the name of the Greek goddess as Ge, but I have never encountered it or even Gaea. One would expect Terra or Tellus in this use.
  • hā: If one argues that the initial h- is not pronounced, then this sounds like the preposition. But that would draw the very name of this letter into question. As cmw points out in a comment, this is used in Plautus for laughter, but it can also be seen as a part of a longer word hahae or similar, and the a is short.
  • cā: —
  • ĕl: —
  • ĕm: This looks it could be an accusative for of is, but it is not.
  • ĕn: interjection ēn
  • pē: noun pes
  • cū: pronoun cui
  • ĕr: forms of esse, nouns era and erus
  • ū: —
  • y ([ī]) graeca: —
  • zēta: —

There seem to be eight letters that are words.

As Draconis points out in a comment, some letters have alternate names (esse, elle, emme…). These do not seem to bring any new letters to the list, but S gets a new word in esse. This also produces the close hit ille ≈ elle.

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    How about .i. .v. .x. etc pronounced unus -a -um; quinque, decem. And i◦ v◦ x◦ primo, quinto, decimo. Another category which might deserve inclusion are Caius G Lucius L and Marcus M.
    – Hugh
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 1:59
  • @Hugh Hmm... I would consider those to be abbreviations. If I understood correctly, the question was about words that sound like the names of the letters. Abbreviations seem to be pretty far from the examples given in the question.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 6:48
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    From Plautus: Há ha hae.
    – cmw
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 21:36
  • @cmw Good find! I moved it to the other category.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 21:52
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I should have been clearer, though. So Lewis and Short print it as one word, though hahae is also attested. Also, it's short, and if that post is accurate then the word for H has a long A, so not quite a match. I'd keep it in the "close but no cigar" category, but replace the part about the silent H with the above info.
    – cmw
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 22:08

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