Which Letter Starts the Fewest Words in the English Language?

From A to Z, the 26 letters in the English alphabet contribute to over 240,000 words. But, out of this huge number, there’s a letter that is at the beginning of less than 500 of these words.

Can you guess what this letter is? Probably not.

Let me take some suspects off the list for you. It’s not Q and it’s not Y.

Last hint: it’s a letter that either makes the word sound scientific or seem like the name of a character/city in a fantastical fairy tale.

Read on to find out what letter I’m talking about.

the letter that starts the fewest words in the english language

Which Letter Starts the Fewest Words in the English Language?

Try listing all the words that start with V, let us see if you can eliminate it (V) according to the hint I just gave you in the previous section.

Close to 500? That’s a lot of words to list down. That is harder than the “ice bucket challenge.”

Okay, let me go straight to it, it’s X.

You could start counting them one by one, Xanadu, Xanax, xanthemia, xanthic, xylophone, Xylopia. You wouldn’t get them all, but you wouldn’t be far away either.

In fact, there are only 400 words that start with the letter X in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Some sources also claim that America’s first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, published by Noah Webster in 1806 had only one word listed under the letter X.

x ray definition as seen on a dictionary
X-ray definition as seen on a dictionary.

That number only surged (to 13) when developed a comprehensive dictionary called “An American Dictionary of the English Language” which published in 1828

After that, the number of words with the letter X at the beginning continued to increase until it reached the current figure of 400.

Here are some of the longest words that start with X:

  • Xanthophores: “a chromatophore containing a yellow pigment, as in some cold-blooded animals.
  • Xanthophyll: “Yellow carotenoid pigments in plants and animal fats and egg yolks.”
  • Xenogenesis: “The alternation of two or more different forms in the life cycle of a plant or animal.”
  • Xeriscaping: “Landscaping designed for dry conditions to conserve water.
  • Xerography: “Forming an image by the action of light on a specially coated charged plate; the latent image is developed with powders that adhere only to electrically charged areas.”
  • Xeroradiography: “Radiography using X-rays and xerographic (rather than roentgenographic) techniques.
  • Xiphisternum: “Smallest of the three parts of the breastbone; articulates with the corpus sternum and the seventh rib.”
  • Xylography: “The art of engraving on wood.”
  • Xylophonists: “Someone who plays a xylophone.”
  • Xylostromata: “the closely felted sterile mycelium of various wood-destroying fungi formerly believed to represent a distinct genus.
  • Xenodiagnosis: “the detection of a parasite (as of humans) by feeding a suitable intermediate host (such as an insect) on supposedly infected material (such as blood) and later examining the host for the parasite.”
  • Xerophthalmia: “Abnormal dryness of the conjunctiva and cornea of the eyes; may be due to a systemic deficiency of vitamin A.”
  • Xanthosiderite: “A mineral, hydrous iron oxide, Fe2O3⋅2H2O.
  • Xenocurrencies: “Currencies traded in markets outside of its domestic borders.”
  • Xenotransplant: “A surgical procedure in which tissue or whole organs are transferred from one species to another species.
  • Xocolatophobia: “an irrational or disproportionate fear of chocolate.
a xylophonist playing a xylophone inside a studio
A xylophonist playing a xylophone inside a studio.

Which Letters Are Found in Most Words?

The answer is simple because the letter is everywhere.

Including in “everywhere.”

It’s in your tea, in the sea, and in your “alphabet.”

It’s the letter “E” that has the highest number of words in a typical English dictionary.

As a matter of fact, the letter “E” occupies more than 10% of the entire English vocabulary.

However, “E” is not the only vowel that is on the top 10 most common letters in the English language list.

Out of all 5 written vowels, it’s only U that doesn’t make the top 10 list.

Here are the top 5 most common letters in the English language:

  1. E
  2. A
  3. R
  4. I
  5. O

Although E is the most common letter in the English language, “T” actually begins the most English words.

And the most common second letter in the English language is “H.”

What Are the 10 Least Used Letters in the English Language?

The letters “Q,” “J,” “Z,” and “X” take up less than four percent of the common English vocabulary.

Of course, out of the four, you would expect “X” to be on the list given that is the letter that starts the least number of words.

But, for some people, “J” would be a surprise.

The rest of the least used letters are: “K,” “B,” “Y,” “W,” “G,” and “P.”   

The Letters of the alphabet ranked from most frequent to most rare.

What Are the 10 Most Frequently Used Letters in English?

The most frequently used English word is “the.” The word “time” is the most common noun, “be” is the verb that is used a great deal, and the most common pronouns are he, she, me, and we.

From that list, you can see that E also dominates as the most frequently used letter in the English language.

The runner-up is “T,” which can be found in both “the” and “time.”

Again, the vowels “A,” “I,” and “O” follow E on the frequently used letters in the English language list.

The other consonants that make the top ten are “S,” “H,” “R,” and “D.”

Summary

Looking at the words that start with X, it is easy to understand why there are just about 400 of them.

If you think about it, who has time to come up with words like Xenopodidae or Xenorhyncus?

Scientists, that’s who.

It makes perfect sense why we don’t have a lot of verbs starting with x. Well… apart from modern-day adopted or compound ones like x-rating or x-raying.

And it should come as no surprise when you learn “X” is among the least used words in the English language.

The most frequently used letter in the English language is “E.” This is not only in speech or fiction writing but in other important things such as the Bible and—allegedly—Morse code. 

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.