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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.
  • 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.

  • Very nice! Just one thing I'd add: the alternate names for some of the continuants can be words too. For example, es was also called esse. – Draconis Jan 31 at 21:47
  • @Draconis Thanks! I added a note on that to the end. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jan 31 at 22:07
  • 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 Feb 2 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 Feb 2 at 6:48

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