When you envision Scrabble success, you might picture one mighty play, a single sesquipedalian word - say, “sesquipedalian,” from the Latin for “a foot and a half long” - strung across multiple bonuses to the confusion of your foes and the cheers of your groupies. The thing is that’s not usually how you win Scrabble. Don’t get us wrong; if you somehow set up “sesquipedalian” across a triple word score, lay that sucker out. But most wins are built on short, simple, playable words that devour bonuses and turn your opponents’ words against them. Here follow 25 of the words every Scrabble player should have in their pocket.
“Bonus fodder” is our phrase for words made to grab a bonus square before your opponent does. At the risk of further crushing your dreams of polysyllabic preeminence, your best bet is to pick off bonuses with short words containing one or two high-scoring letters. There's no use building up an uber-move if your opponent renders it useless with a single ill-placed play.
Instead, get small. These five shorties will reward a well-placed bonus square.
AXIS - Believe it or not, the magic letter in this four-letter fundamental isn’t X. It’s A, I and S. A and I are tied for the 2nd most common letter in the game, and S is 5th. Between what’s in your hand and on your board, there’s a good chance you can spell "axis" or AXES any time you draw an X. Better yet, that terminal S can turn almost any opponent's play into a plural word for you.
EXIT - Like its sibling "axis" above, "exit" is all about getting the most from its central X. E, I and T are all common letters just waiting to frame an X on a lovely colored square.
JEAN - We suppose if you put on a pair of jeans, by definition, there has to be a single “jean” in there somewhere. Good thing too, because that’s an 8 point J attached to the three most common letters in the game. Beat that with a stick.
QUA - This Latin holdover still requires the relatively rare QU combo (read up on our solutions to the “Q but no U” conundrum), but all it takes is an A in the right place to fulfill your bonus dreams. Note that QUAS is not legal, but AQUA, AQUAS, AQUAE and the various forms of EQUAL all are.
ZINE - If you survived the '90s, you probably read, or indeed wrote and/or illustrated and/or published, one of these hand-printed indie icons. I, N and E are all common letters, ZINE pluralizes nicely, and AZINE and AZINES are also workable words.
Consonants can be tricky. They’re where the big points live, but to state the obvious, they’re worth big points because they’re harder to play. Finding ways to work with a consonant-heavy hand calls for some solid go-to words. Here are five to get you going.
ACT - Sometimes you need to kill off a letter or two to get moving. ACT is a great choice, built around an often obstructive C and the super common A and T. Better yet, ACT is a foundation word: everything from ENACT to REACTION will be in your reach.
BRACT - Leaves! Leaves, fronds, even the fleshy growths on cacti qualify as bracts. “Bract” bears special notice among the aforementioned -ACT words, because it sets a pattern crucial to high scores from short words: four consonants and a vowel.
PLUMP - Onomatopoeia is always a rich source for Scrabbleworthy words: unusual, and unusually helpful, spellings abound when written language emulates the aural. "Plump," with four high scoring consonants in five letters, is gaming gold.
RACK - One of the most useful properties of short, consonant-heavy words is they tend to be root words. That opens up uncounted paths to victory, from the obvious RACKS or RACKED to pro level extrapolations like WISECRACKERS.
TRICK - Another way to play four consonants in five-letter words, "trick" is also a perfect example of how to find powerful plays with a handful of consonants. Train yourself to notice common English digraphs like TR and CK and you'll start to fill in the spaces yourself. For example, not only can you turn "trick" into TRICKS and TRICKERY, but you can also turn it into TRACK and TRUCK.
When it comes to Scrabble, some letters can't help but be a pain. Letters like C, K and V seriously tax our ability to say, "There's no such thing as a bad letter." They straddle the border, neither rare enough to be worth JQXZ points, nor common enough to be easily playable. Here are five ways to get the abecedarian albatrosses off your neck.
KRILL - If this one comes out, you're having a rough time. A hand with a K and two L's? You must be burning off some bad karma. Thankfully, these superabundant oceanic shrimp will help you clear your hand.
LOLL - Speaking of unfortunate draws. We've all been in the position of ending up with two or three or four more copies of a letter than we want. Keep an eye out for short words that begin or end with double letters as an effective way to toss them.
PUNK - Any word that gets rid of a P and a K inside four letters is OK in our book. The etymology of "punk" is fascinating, and even today, whether it's a compliment or not, and whether it's obscene or not, depend very much on where you are and who's talking. That said, obscene words are 100% game legal in Scrabble. Check with your fellows before you bust one out, but don't pass up a strong play if everyone's OK with it.
VEX - Remember how in school, the teacher would buddy up a goody-two-shoes with a troublemaker to average them out to one functional kid? That's "vex." V is a 5-point challenge. X is an 8-point rock star. "Vex" links the two together with the most common tile in the bag. Oh, and VOX is just as playable.
VIDEO - With three uber-common vowels and only one extra consonant, "video" is an expeditious means by which to ditch a V. Better yet, "video" is a direct import from Latin (literal meaning: "I see") and Latin was all about prefixes and suffixes. English scooped up all sorts of words having to do with vision and based on "video," from VISIBLE to INVIDIOUS.
S for Success
English's 2nd most common consonant is a unique part of any Scrabble player's arsenal. Being part of the vast majority of plural nouns and present tense verbs in English, S is Scrabble gold, best saved for when it can have the most effect. This is the letter you keep back for a big play, pluralizing or conjugating your opponent's masterwork and stealing all their points, plus a few new ones. The best way to do that is not just to slap on the S, but to spell a whole high-scoring S word. Here are five of the best.
ESS - Yes, the properly spelled name of the letter S itself is on this list. It's a textbook example of defensive play Whether sneaking an S on your own word or an opponent's, a word like "ess," especially if your opponent's word links to the middle letter, closes down options for your opponent. "Ess" is especially good if you've got a CRESS or LOESS on deck.
QATS - "Qat" is already a Scrabble superstar, since it has a Q and no U. Here it's standing in for all the high-scoring words that a skilled player can stack just by pluralizing an opponent. Lay down that 10-point Q, follow it with two of the most common letters in the bag, then link it to an opponent's word with S. Do all that across a bonus square that counts for both words and you can win a whole game in a single turn.
SAUNA - Too many vowels and common consonants? S will see you through. Words like this are just as good laid out on their own as they are at the end of other players' plays. Words with lots of vowels and common consonants are foundations, ideal early-game plays to set up big moves for the future.
SPANK - This one is a triple threat: it burns four consonants, two nuisance letters - P and K often unhelpfully clutter up a hand - and starts with an S, all in five little tiles. Also, SPANKED, SPANKER, SPANKS and SPUNK are all legal. If there were a Scrabble Hall of Fame, "spank" would be on the first ballot, right next to QI.
SPRIT - This one's downright mean. Stringing "sprit" at the end of one of your opponent's strong plays doesn't just score you their word plus; those three consonants at the beginning also make the word a royal pain to play from. Save this one for that guy at game night who doesn't chip in for snacks.
Ugh. At least consonants can be high-scoring. Yes, vowels appear in (almost but not really!) every English word, but a handful of vowels is worth exactly 7 points. Here's how to put those lightweights to work and get some bankable letters in your hand.
AERATE - We're starting big. If you have a vowel problem, lay down this word and you won't anymore. It's that simple. It's the longest word on this list, and for a reason: it's a warning. Vowels aren't obviously worth much, but you really do need them. Play more than one or two vowel-heavy words like this and the bag will run dry of the A's and E's you need.
AREA - Let's go back to small and cheerful with "area," a word built out of the most common letters in English. "Area" is unusual among our words of choice in that you can't iterate it, short of slapping on a terminal S for the plural. Instead, it's a platform. A, E and R are the kind of letters words both common and obscure are made of. Play words like this early and often, not just to get vowels out of your hand, but to get them into play. Then, build.
EERIE - E is far and away the most common letter, both in English as a whole and in the sacrosanct Scrabble bag. Twelve of the suckers! It's easy to end up with a handful. "Eerie" will clear much-needed space and open up new plays. It also inflects beautifully with EERIER and EERIEST.
OLIO - "Olio" isn't just a word, it's a reminder: the majority of English words go unsaid and unwritten. If you used the word "olio" in an English paper, your teacher might tick off a point or two for unnecessarily flowery prose. Thankfully, there's a place for unnecessarily flowery prose. Two of them, indeed: silly articles like this, and Scrabble. Think "olio" the next time you crack open a book or click on a news article. Collect words. It pays, in games and life.
SOUSE - "Souse" stands for all the words that get rid of both vowels and common consonants. Whenever possible, combine your unwelcome vowels with equally unwelcome consonants. Clear-out turns often don't score especially high. You gotta get your letters earning.
Big Things, Small Packages
Big plays from big words in Scrabble are the exception, not the rule. As in so many life skills, Scrabble is all about mastering the little things, the fundamentals on which you build true mastery. Study up on short words. They're what winning is made of.
Looking for more big effects from small packages? Try our 7 ways 2-letter words can improve your Scrabble score!
Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.
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