Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning With A

Part one of a twenty-six part series.

Words we already knew

  • ALP is usually capitalized, but it can be used generically to mean “a mountain like what they have in Switzerland”.
  • APP is a contraction with wide enough currency to become a headword. Congrats, app.

Words we already knew because they are plurals of a two-letter word


It’s not totally obvious that AH and AY can be pluralized, but the act of making the sound is a noun, so the plural plays.

More mouth sounds!


AAH and AHA are pretty standard, ACH is somewhere between ARGH and UGH and OCH, I suppose, ARF is a somewhat standard dog, AUE is from Māori, and I predict it will be the word from this list that I have the hardest time remembering.

Animals and Plants

ANIA bird of the genus Crotophaga. Isn’t that helpful? See below for a picture of an ani I met in Belize.
AHIA large tuna; esp. the bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus, and the yellowfin tuna, T. albacares. From Hawaiian. I don’t have a picture of any of the fishes.
AUA#The yellow-eyed mullet, Aldrichetta forsteri, from Māori
AYU#A small fish, Plecoglossus altivelis, native to Japan and the surrounding areas. Also known as “sweetfish”, because it is ayummy thing to eat.
A picture of a thick-billed ani, in a tree, looking pensive
A thick-billed ani, looking pensive
AALA small rubiaceous tree, Morinda citrifolia… wait a minute, it’s the Indian Mulberry again! As found in AL and ALS.
AJIA South American chili pepper. From Taino via Spanish
AKA#A vine, Metrosideros scandens, found in New Zealand. Probably going to pretend to myself that this is the abbreviation for “also known as”, which is basically lexicalised at this point, right?
ALU#The potato. Also ALOO. From Hindi
AVASame as KAVA, i.e. An intoxicating beverage prepared from the macerated roots of the Polynesian shrub Piper methysticum. Also, this plant, or its root. But not the same as CAVA, which is a different intoxicating beverage.

Niche and antique words. How many did you know?

ABB#Originally the woof or weft in a web. Later also the warp in a web. What a yarn.
ABYto pay the penalty [v ABOUGHT, ABYING, ABYS or ABIES]. Is that… Faerie Queene again? Yes, yes, everyone else in history spelled it ABYE. Thanks Eddy. File with NY and FY.
AITA small island, often a river island. Also EYOT. Relates to the I of ISLAND (into which, we recall, Francophiles inserted the S unnecessarily), but not directly to anything about ISLET. Probably. Don’t AIT me.
ALAIn biology, any flat winglike projection. The ala of the nose (ala nasi, “wing of the nose“; plural alae) is the lower lateral surface of the external nose, shaped by the alar cartilage and covered in dense connective tissue. Yes, ALAR and ALAE and ALAS, alas.
ALBA white vestment reaching the feet and enveloping the entire body, worn by clergy, servers, and others taking part in church services. So-called because it was white.
ALF#Collins claims this is derogatory Australian slang for a uncultivated person, or yob. If so, it has fallen out of use – I can’t find an internet-era slang dictionary with this word. Possibly current during one or both of the world wars, and fossilised in some reference source I can’t access.
ALTThe octave directly above the treble staff. c.f. ALTO
AMUA unit of mass. Specifically, the atomic mass unit. Hm. See also ECU.
ANAA collection of reminiscences, sketches, information, etc, of or about a person or place (as in Americana?! ). I had no idea this was ever a standalone word.
OED confirms: “Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which..for its intrinsic worth, is the Ana of all Anas.” – R. Southey, Doctor (1847) vol. VII. 347 🦆
ANN#A half-year’s salary, legally due to the executors of the will of a deceased minister of the Church of Scotland, paid in addition to any stipend owing at the time of the minister’s death; Contraction of ANNAT or ANNATES, but not ANNATE*. This is hilariously niche, well played both lexicons.
ANS#As in “ifs and ans”, things that might have happened, but which did not. Short for AND, obviously.
APO(allegedly) a type of protein (apolipoprotein). No entry in OED or Collins online, only as an adjective on Wiktionary. The road of allowing arbitrary chemistry prefixes leads to madness.
ARBContraction of ARBITRAGEUR (one who engages in arbitrage).
ARD#A primitive plough (possibly it was ‘arder to pull). Used in discussions of Norse archaeology.
AUF#Variant spelling of the already-obscure OUPHE, a changeling child supposedly left by fairies in exchange for one stolen.
AWK#A programming language and flat-out proper noun that slipped through because it’s usually written in lowercase.
AWNThe delicate spinous process, or ‘beard,’ that terminates the grain-sheath of barley, oats, and other grasses; extended in Botany to any similar bristly growth. Also seems to be an adjective (having awn) and a verb (to hand an awning), and hence AWN takes all the suffixes: -S -ED, -ING, -LESS, -ER, -Y, -IER, -IEST
AZOMore chemistry: of, consisting of, or containing the divalent group -N:N-

Loan words that have legit been adopted into English, in no particular order

AINThe 16th Hebrew letter, which of course has another transliteration, AYIN.
ATTA monetary unit in Laos, 1/100th of a kip. Now inflated away, no coins minted since 1980
ATS#Many atts, except using the single-T transliteration.
AVOA monetary unit in Macao, 1/100th of a pataca. Not yet inflated away. From Portuguese fractions, cognate with the suffix in octavo.
ABAa Syrian cloth, also as ABAYA
AGAa Turkish military officer, also AGHA, as in the Agha Khan. Not the oven.
AIA#Same as AYAH, but not AYA*. A female domestic servant or nursemaid in south Asia
AMASame as AMAH. A female domestic servant in east Asia. Amah/Ayah details on WIkipedia

Just actual non-English words wtf

AVEThe Latin greeting. Somehow legal. OED has it as a verb, “to greet with shouts of Ave“, but this AVE is Collins’ “sentence substitute”, and does not conjugate (but does pluralise).
AME#A soul. This is just French. Even Collins spells it âme.
AMIA friend. Also literally just French. OED has citations from the fourteenth century, when the king was French and lines were a little blurred, and from the nineteenth century, in italics.

Dialect spelling variants

AFF= OFF, Scots
AKE#= ACHE, old
ANE= ONE, old
ARY#= EVER, southern US
AWA= AWAY, Scots

As usual, the North American dictionary cuts out a lot of the complete nonsense words, although not ABY, which is weird, given the lack of NY and FY.

Top five words doing a bad job of justifying their legality:

  • ABY
  • AIA
  • ALF
  • AMI
  • AME
  • APO
  • AWK

Ok, seven. Yeesh.