What English words containing only voiced or only unvoiced consonants contain the most?

Count each consonant as many times as it appears.

Note that this is a question about the sounds (phonemes) contained in spoken English words, not letters of the alphabet!

Consonants are either voiced (spoken with vibration of the vocal cords) or unvoiced (spoken without it). For example the sounds usually represented by b, d and v are voiced, whereas those usually represented by p, t and f are unvoiced. Voiced consonants can convey a feeling of softness; unvoiced ones, strength.

Captious contains 4 consonants, all unvoiced: /c/, /p/, /ʃ/, /s/.
Bamboozled contains 6, all voiced: /b/, /m/, /b/, /z/, /l/, /d/.

Can you do better?

Unvoiced consonants:
/f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /t/,
/ʃ/ (shoe),
/θ/ (thin),
/tʃ/ (chip) (count as single)

Voiced consonants:
/v/, /g/, /b/, /z/, /d/,
/l/, /m/, /n/, /r/, /w/, /y/,
/ʒ/ (vision),
/ð/ (that),
/dʒ/ (gem) (count as single)
/ŋ/ (sing)

Let's pronounce where and wear the same. /hw/ is an unvoiced-voiced pair and therefore could not appear in the words we want anyway, and we will ignore /ʍ/, the unvoiced partner of /w/ that appears in some people's pronunciation of where.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You should probably give clarification or restrictions on what is considered an English word. People on this Stack love their loopholes. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 6 '15 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts - Any word listed in an English dictionary will be fine. $\endgroup$ – h34 Feb 8 '15 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ I thought this was a good puzzling question, of a type I haven't seen before, but perhaps there's little interest here in spoken words as strings of phonemes rather than written words as strings of letters? (One thing I like about puzzling is that it can be educative in a range of fields.) Maybe I should post it to English Language and Usage SE and tag it "poetry"? Edit: actually on further thought I may offer a bounty to try to make phonemically themed questions more popular here! $\endgroup$ – h34 Feb 8 '15 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ This is a very frustrating puzzle. I keep thinking of or finding almost-answers, like long words of all voiced consonants, except for a single "s" or "ch" somewhere in the middle. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 9 '15 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Someone could write a program for it. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Feb 9 '15 at 15:43

7 unvoiced consonants:

Hypaspists: h, p, s, p, s, t, s

Runners-up with 6:

Ecstatics: k, s, t, t, k, s.
Expects: k, s, p, k, t, s.
Fisticuffs: f, s, t, k, f, s.
Pacifists: p, s, f, s, t, s.
Sexists: s, k, s, s, t, s.
Specificity: s, p, s, f, s, t.

7 voiced consonants:

Invulnerable: n, v, l, n, r, b, l.
Unendangered: n, n, d, n, j, r, d.
Underminers: n, d, r, m, n, r, z.
Undependable: n, d, p, n, d, b, l.
Undeservedly: n, d, z, r, v, d, l.
Unremembered: n, r, m, m, b, r, d.
Unreservedly: n, r, z, r, v, d, l.

Unendangeredly has 4 hits on Google but isn't in any dictionary.
Undermobilized also has a few hits.

  • $\begingroup$ Why not "specificities"? $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 9 '15 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ The last sound of "specificities" is /z/. $\endgroup$ – singletee Feb 9 '15 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know much of anything about phonetics or linguistics, but according to the Wikipedia page on voicing, "The /z/ phoneme, ... can actually be pronounced as either the [s] phone or the [z] phone because /z/ is frequently devoiced in fluent speech, especially at the end of an utterance." This seems to say that the voiced consonant /z/ can be spoken unvoiced, which doesn't make any sense to me (why is it a voiced consonant, then?). It's no wonder that I haven't been able to come up with an answer for this question. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 9 '15 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts - There's a lot of space for linguistic scholars to be quite tendentious. Many categories have to be quite woolly. For example, there's no definition of syllable that makes clear exactly where every syllable starts or ends. Categories are defined with differing amounts of abstractness by different scholars. I think what this person meant is that what 'in theory' (for some value of 'theory') 'should' be /z/ is sometimes pronounced with less or no voice by some speakers. $\endgroup$ – h34 Feb 9 '15 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ (continued) I would say that if it's completely devoiced then the sound is /s/, but a few people would go all Platonic (saying the ideal of /z/ is still expressed) ... or is it postmodern (truth is a perception)? Remember that pronunciation of individual phonemes does vary. The usual question is whether or not the differences can differentiate between two words. If it were up to me, I'd just say that saying that the last phoneme in specificities is sometimes /s/ would, in our context, be pushing it a bit too far. $\endgroup$ – h34 Feb 9 '15 at 20:48

Here are some improvement/additions to @Bret's answer.

Voiced (9 letters)

  • brobdingnagians: b, r, b, d, g, n, g, n, z
  • environmentalism: n, v, r, n, m, n, l, z, m (in t-dropping pronunciations)

Voiced (8 letters)

  • alexandrines: l, g, z, n, d, r, n, z
  • bilingualism: b, l, n, g, w, l, z, m

Unvoiced (7 letters)

  • statistics: s, t, t, s, t, k, s
  • sophisticates: s, f, s, t, k, t, s
  • stethoscopes: s, t, θ, s, k, p, s

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.