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What is a Pangram?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pangram is a sentence in which every letter of the alphabet is used at least once. Many languages have classic pangrams, such as the English “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” These intriguing sentences are also sometimes called holoalphabetic sentences, using the Greek roots for “whole” and “alphabet.” You can probably think of a few examples of pangrams, if you put your mind to it.

For some people, the construction of pangrams is an interesting intellectual challenge. As a general rule, people try to make sentences which make sense or at least do not seem too outlandish, and many people also try to use as few letters as possible, with the goal of creating a perfect pangram. Perfect pangrams, of course, use every letter of the alphabet exactly once, and it is very difficult to construct one. A well known example in English is “blowzy night-frumps vex'd Jack Q.” While this sentence does technically make sense, most readers would agree that it is a bit odd.

In addition to stimulating the mind, pangrams also serve a practical function. Many people use them to test equipment like typewriters to ensure that every key works, for example, and they are also used as samples to display fonts so that potential buyers can see every letter. You may see a pangram used as a placeholder in advertising design on occasion, allowing the client to see what a font looks like before copy has been written.

For people who are just learning a language, constructing a pangram can be very challenging, but also fun, as it encourages people to use their knowledge of the new language. Some teachers use pangrams in their lesson plans for this very reason, for both adult and child language learners. Pangrams are also a good way to practice penmanship, as they force people to form every letter at least once.

When you are constructing a pangram on your own, it can help to think of unusual words, and to come up with new ways to utilize letters like X, Y, J, Z, and Q. A “zax,” for example, is a type of roofing tool, and it takes care of the Z and the X in one fell swoop. People with good anagramming skills are often fairly good at developing pangrams, as they are used to thinking about language in new ways, and they tend to know a lot of obscure words as a result of their anagramming.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By MissDaphne — On Dec 09, 2011

@rugbygirl - Uh oh, someone's been reading the OED again, admit it! Seriously, I actually knew that word, too, from reading a book called "Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable."

The premise is complicated, but essentially the correspondents (an epistolary novel is a novel in letters - these were very common in the early days of novels, not so much now) live on a small island where people are of a literary bent. The town council is gradually banning letters of the alphabet and punishing people who use them. So first they must avoid, z, q, j, letters like that, but eventually their word choice becomes quite stilted.

The only way to reverse this curse is for someone to invent a pangram that is shorter than the lazy brown dog sentence. Someone finally does by accident - I think it's something like "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs." It's a really funny novel for word lovers - I bet you would like it!

By rugbygirl — On Dec 08, 2011

If a pangram (Greek roots for "all" and "writing") is a sentence with all the letters of the alphabet, did you know that a lipogram is a piece of writing that avoids one or more letters? Just a fun word to annoy your friends with!

I once saw a whole paragraph written without the letter "e," which of course is particularly challenging as it's the most common letter in the English language. You could read the whole paragraph and not realize the letter was missing until you were done and read the sentence explaining it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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