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What is the largest number of words that can be made by just adding one letter to the original word, where each iteration is a meaningful word? E.g.

HO
HON
HONE
HONES
HONEST
HONESTY

The original word can have as many letters as you want; you can add letters at the start, at the end or anywhere; and onomatopoeic words are allowed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please also specify the starting state: do you start with a two-letter word? $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Mar 5 '15 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ Are onomatopoeias allowed? $\endgroup$ – Pikamander2 Mar 6 '15 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ "start with as many letters as you want" That doesn't make sense. You could just pick any arbitrary long word and pluralise it. Then the fun part — ensuring that substrings are also words — evaporates! $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 6 '15 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe he's looking for the largest difference between starting and ending word lengths. so adding an S to an arbitrarily long word is only worth one point. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Mar 6 '15 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ putting this here because it is closely related though obviously completely different questions: puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/1911/… $\endgroup$ – kaine Mar 6 '15 at 14:00
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I assume you start at two letters, as in your example. I'm using the circa 2013 Words With Friends dictionary.

If you can only add to the right end of the word, 8-letter words are possible:

ba
bar
barb
barbe
barbel
barbell
barbells

ma
max
maxi
maxim
maxima
maximal
maximals

pa
pas
past
paste
paster
pastern
pasterns

re
rep
repo
repos
repose
reposer
reposers

If you can add to either end, 9-letter words are possible:

id
aid
aide
aider
aiders
raiders
braiders
abraiders

la
lap
laps
lapse
elapse
relapse
relapser
relapsers

in
pin
ping
aping
raping
craping
scraping
scrapings

at
eat
eath
heath
sheath
sheathe
sheather
sheathers

is
ais
rais
raise
raiser
raisers
praisers
upraisers

If you can add at any point, 11-letter words are possible:

pi
pig
ping
oping
coping
comping
compting
competing
completing
complecting
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9
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To add to Kevin's answer, it's possible to come up with a 11-letter word by adding letters at either end (as illustrated by the answers to this PPCG question):

ab
rab
arab
arabi
arabin
arabine
carabine
carabiner
carabinero
carabineros

ra
rah
rahm
brahm
brahma
brahman
brahmani
brahmanis
brahmanism
brahmanisms

ra
ran
fran
franc
franci
francis
francisc
francisca
franciscan
franciscans
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7
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The longest words in the dictionary that come with my Mac are

"reversist" and "sheathery", although I can't find a definition for either of them (the earlier stages are all defined in wiktionary, though).

So

re
rev
reve
rever
revers
reversi
reversis
reversist

or

sh
she
shea
sheat
sheath
sheathe
sheather
sheathery

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    $\begingroup$ A sheathery is a shop that makes sheaths -- that is, a device for holding an edged weapon like a dagger or sword. "Reversist", I have no idea. Seems like a typo for "reservist", frankly. Neither appear to be valid Scrabble words. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Mar 6 '15 at 21:59
2
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The puzzle is to add one letter at a time, ANYWHERE within the word. Reasonable common words with nine letters would be: Startling (or starlings)-starling-staring-string-sting-sing-sin-in-I

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2
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a
an
can
clan
clean
cleans
cleanse
cleanser
cleansers 

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    $\begingroup$ Other answers have given longer chains, but thanks for the contribution. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook May 21 at 0:26
1
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Starling could be an option.

    in 
    Sin 
    Sing 
    Sting 
    String
    Staring
    Starling 

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    $\begingroup$ Then startling, for nine letters. $\endgroup$ – Jaap Scherphuis Dec 23 '18 at 16:13
0
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Adding at the end, I give you contrasters (11 letters). For 10 letters, I found these:

contraster
Romanisers
contrasted 
pastoraled 
pastorales 
minimisers 
quartettes 
quintettes 

I used Aspell SCOWL dictionary.

Using a bigger, lower quality, list, I can find territorialised and territorialists (15), but there are many false positives in that list.

Of course, one can cheat. If you start with: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane you can just add an s and put yourself in the nice sum of 32 letters. If we remove chemicals (they can, after all, be arbitrarily long), you have the classic antidisestablishmentarianism, that, in its plural form, is 29 letters long.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused. What are the letters being added? $\endgroup$ – xnor Mar 6 '15 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ @xnor always at the end. $\endgroup$ – Davidmh Mar 6 '15 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I see, the OP said "start with as many letters as you want", so you're just making a single addition. $\endgroup$ – xnor Mar 6 '15 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ How can there be plural antidisestablishmentarianisms? $\endgroup$ – Fengyang Wang Mar 7 '15 at 4:10

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