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Which Sentence Uses the Fewest Different Words?

The sentence that uses the fewest different words is often the most concise and clear, stripping language down to its bare essentials. For example, "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is grammatically correct and uses only one word. How does this linguistic minimalism affect comprehension and style? Join us as we unravel the power of word economy in communication.

If you are someone who likes to be concise, you should love the word "buffalo." Not only is the word versatile -- as a noun, it's an animal or a big city in New York, and as a verb, it means to either baffle or intimidate someone.

Remarkably, it can also form a lengthy sentence all by itself: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." It may not be easy to understand, but it's still grammatically correct. Basically, it's another way of saying that some buffalo from the city of Buffalo that are intimidated by other buffalo in the Buffalo area also intimidate other buffalo in their own city. Got that?

You can make a grammatically-correct eight-word sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo."
You can make a grammatically-correct eight-word sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo."

The sentence is the creation of William J. Rapaport, a former professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at (no surprise) Buffalo. He came up with it in 1972 as a grad student at Indiana University. Rapaport gained some fame from the sentence and used it throughout his career.

In fact, the word "buffalo" is not unique in its ability to be used repeatedly in a sentence as both a noun and a verb, so if you have lots of free time -- and you love diagramming sentences -- you might try to create your own. Some suggestions: dice, fish, object, and present.

If you enjoy playing with sentences:

  • "Eva, can I see bees in a cave" is an example of a palindromic sentence, meaning it reads the same backward and forward.

  • "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," is a pangram -- it uses all 26 letters of the English alphabet -- often used in touch-typing lessons.

  • Groucho Marx quipped that "one morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas" to illustrate how a structurally sound sentence can have multiple meanings: Was Marx or the elephant wearing pajamas?

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    • You can make a grammatically-correct eight-word sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo."
      You can make a grammatically-correct eight-word sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo."