Can you find a set of 5 words in English which all differ by just one vowel? This is easiest to explain with an example:

Batter. Better. Bitter. Botter. Butter

Close, but "botter" isn't a real word.

There's no upper or lower limit on word length.

I'd like the words to be in fairly common usage - we shouldn't need to run to the dictionary to verify your claim. It can be done, I have a few sets already, but I'm sure you can find more. I will mark as the answer the one with most sets/best sets/least obscure words.


7 Answers 7


I've actually been asked this question before: so I wrote a script to find all the answers!

import re

def read_dictionary(filename):
    dict = set()
    with open(filename, 'r') as f:
        for w in f:
    return dict

def find_omnivocalics(dict, vowels="aeiou"):
    assert len(vowels) >= 2
    omnivocalics = []
    for w in dict:
        for m in re.finditer(vowels[0], w):
            omnivocalic = True
            for v in vowels[1:]:
                if w[:m.start()] + v + w[m.end():] not in dict:
                    omnivocalic = False
            if omnivocalic:
                omnivocalics.append(w[:m.start()] + '*' + w[m.end():])
    omnivocalics.sort(key=lambda item: (len(item), item))
    print(", ".join(omnivocalics))

Using the TWL Scrabble word list returns the following 84 word sets (sorted by length):

*n, *s, m*, b*d, b*g, b*s, b*t, d*n, f*n, f*r, g*t, h*p, h*t, m*d, m*g, n*b, p*p, p*t, r*m, t*n, t*t, b*ds, b*gs, b*ll, b*nd, b*ts, c*re, c*te, d*ns, d*re, f*ns, h*ck, h*ed, h*ts, l*st, m*ds, m*gs, m*ll, m*re, m*ss, m*te, n*bs, p*ck, p*le, p*ns, p*ps, p*ts, r*ck, r*ms, t*le, t*ns, t*ts, b*lls, b*nds, c*res, c*tes, d*lly, h*cks, h*llo, m*lls, m*res, m*ssy, m*tes, p*cks, p*les, r*cks, t*les, b*lled, d*cker, h*llos, m*ssed, m*sses, p*tted, r*cked, b*gging, b*lling, bl*nder, d*ckers, h*lloed, h*lloes, m*ssing, p*tting, r*cking and h*lloing.

Obviously, some of the words used are obscure. The best examples, in my opinion, are:

* blander/blender/blinder/blonder/blunder
* patting/petting/pitting/potting/putting
* masses/messes/misses/mosses/musses
* packs/pecks/picks/pocks/pucks
* last/lest/list/lost/lust
* bag/beg/big/bog/bug

Three of the examples above also allow the letter y, but use obscure words: m*, b*s and h*p. Turns out this sort of thing is charmingly called 'vowel movements'. See Vowel cascades, vowel movements and di-odes for an article about this with more examples.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Eheh, computers always beat the human mind in this kind of tasks eheh $\endgroup$
    – leoll2
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @leoll2: I've added spoiler alerts for anyone who wants to solve this the more fun ('old-fashioned') way :-) $\endgroup$
    – Uri Granta
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wow, I never knew this concept existed, made it up myself years ago. Most of the sets you have found wouldn't qualify under my "obscure" rule, but you have found some good ones that I never thought of. "Vowel Movements" - like it. Also like "tts , blls"! $\endgroup$
    – Lefty
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @UriZarfaty I've just noticed that your program missed one of my sets - "d*ne" - I guess due to "Dane"...? $\endgroup$
    – Lefty
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 21:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @smci: you can run the script above to find many more such near-misses with the vowels not in second position: e.g. [aiou]nions, cl[aiou]cking, virtuos[aeio]. $\endgroup$
    – Uri Granta
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 6:15

Pat (a name, also a verb)
Pet (domestic animal)
Pit (hole)
Pot (the container)
Put (verb)


Bat (the animal)
Bet (verb related to gambling)
Bit (A little)
Bot (the larva of a parassite)
But (conjunction)

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent, the first set I ever found and for a long while the ONLY set I could find. $\endgroup$
    – Lefty
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ I added another set eheh! $\endgroup$
    – leoll2
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ pat is also a verb - "he pat him on the head" or a noun "he gave him a pat on the head", usually better for these types of puzzles than proper names $\endgroup$
    – Duncan
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ It's also a noun, as in a pat of butter. $\endgroup$
    – wchargin
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 21:53

Bag Beg Big Bog Bug

A more dubious example would be

Hat Het (as in "don't get all het up") Hit Hot Hut

Or even something which just occurred to me (which I see was hidden in a previous answer as l*st)

Last Lest List Lost Lust

  • $\begingroup$ +1, but this already appears in Uri Zarfaty's answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't see that because his answers are obscured. $\endgroup$
    – Noam
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 14:02

There are additional solutions if you consider only pronunciation and not spelling. The largest set I've ever found consists of eleven (11) such words. It might depend a bit on your locale or accent, but these only differ by the internal vowel sound (IPA in brackets)

  • teak [tik]
  • tick [tɪk]
  • take [tek]
  • tech [tɛk]
  • tack [tæk]
  • toque [tuk]
  • took [tʊk]
  • toke [tok]
  • talk [tɔk]
  • tock [tɑk]
  • tuck [tʌk]

...and you thought English only had 5 vowels. These are all distinctively different for me (a Canadian born in Britain).

From the comments I'm adding two more.

  • turk [tɚk]
  • torque [tɔ˞k]
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure why or how I ended up on a puzzle that was posted 4+ years ago. $\endgroup$
    – Octopus
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ It tends to happen here. Still a mighty fine answer though. $\endgroup$
    – Belhenix
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Would "toque" and "toke" sound different? They would be the same for me. What about "torque" and "turk"? For those of us that don't sound our r's, the r just modifies the vowel sound. There must be a definitive list of the vowel/dipthong/tripthong sounds we have in English, mustn't there...? Anyway, it's an interesting idea - worthy of a question of its own - and, presumably, more difficult for someone to solve using a program! $\endgroup$
    – Lefty
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ I've just looked it up and apparently there are 20 vowel sounds in English. So, there's the new challenge, 20 words with only one vowel sound difference! $\endgroup$
    – Lefty
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Lefty, well I come from a Linguistics background and 11 is about the limit for phonemic differences. There may be 20ish allophones which basically means the flavour of the sound may change by context, but you wouldn't find minimal pairs for an allophonic difference. Diphthongs and triphthongs would technically count as 2 and 3 sounds respectively.Toque sounds more like tuke, torque sounds like tork, but that's just me. Your pronunciation might be different. I agree you could put turk, torque in the list, because arguably the vowel is one sound with a bit of an 'r' flavour to it. $\endgroup$
    – Octopus
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 17:20

Paddle: A short pole with a broad blade at one or both ends.

Peddle: Try to sell something by going from house to house or place to place.

Piddle: To spend time in a wasteful, trifling, or ineffective way.

Poddle: To move or travel in a leisurely manner.

Puddle: A small pool of liquid, especially of rainwater, on the ground.


Working from Octopus's phonetic take on this problem, I found a second solution that also has 13 interchangeable vowel sounds.

pit [pɪt]
pet [pet]
pat [pæt]
putt [pʌt]
put [pʊt]
pot [pɒt]
peat [piːt]
part [pɑ:t]
port [pɔ:t]
pert [pɜːt]
poot [pu:t]
pate [peɪt]
pout [paʊt]

This solution includes 6/7 short vowels, 5/5 long vowels, 2/8 diphthongs, and (if you'd please) 0/3 triphthongs. 'Poot' and 'toke' are both informal. The only advantage that this solution has over Octopus's is that their's contains the proper noun 'Turk,' and mine contains none.

ALTERNATIVELY, if one were to expand the original question to include consonants, one could create larger sets of words. For example:


I'd love to see how large this variation can get


Here are some words of mine:

biz (short for business) baas
buzz bays
buys, byes
boos, booze boys
bows, boughs

  • $\begingroup$ What I think you're trying to do is approach this puzzle phonetically -- i.e. change the vowel sounds between the b and s sounds at the beginnings and ends of the words. This puzzle, at least how I understand it, is asking the question in terms of letters themselves, not their sounds. I encourage you to keep trying, though. $\endgroup$
    – Cloudy7
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 18:51

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