In the novel I am writing, the story is told present tense and first person. The themes of the story present some unique points to the style, but something I have noticed as a write the first few chapters, it seems to lack the word THE. Which made me wonder, is it even possible to write a novel the completely lacks the most common word?

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    Is there any reason it wouldn't be possible? It mostly sounds frustrating to write, and of rather dubious benefit :-/
    – Standback
    Jan 3, 2017 at 15:43
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    (In general, the answer to most "Is it possible to write something where--" questions lies somewhere between "Sure, why not" and "try it and see".)
    – Standback
    Jan 3, 2017 at 15:44
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    Why does this keep getting downvotes? It's a totally fine, on topic question Jan 3, 2017 at 16:19
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    @LaurenIpsum : There are lots of things that are "probably a bad idea." Usually, a good enough author can make them work anyway, if they've good cause and sufficient skill. OP isn't asking "is this a good idea", it's obviously not meant to be one. They're asking "can this be made to work," and the answer there is always "if you've got a good reason for it and you're sufficiently skilled."
    – Standback
    Jan 3, 2017 at 17:48
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    Is this question a hoax? You wrote a "few chapters" in a certain way, and now you ask if it is possible to write in that way. Didn't you just prove yourself that one can?
    – user5645
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:23

4 Answers 4


You're talking about what is called constrained writing. Here is a Wikipedia Link. Constrained writing is where you purposefully constrain yourselves by not allowing yourself to do certain things. For example, Lauren Ipsum's example in her answer of writing a book without using E is what is called a lipogram. This is where a certain letter of the alphabet (or couple!) are not used during a piece of writing.

These techniques of constrained writing are often used in poetry, though they can slip everywhere. Lauren's answer features a book which I was going to include in my answer, but I wasn't here first. That book is proof that a lipogram can be achieved in a very long piece of work. In fact, I remember that a year ago in my England class we were tasked to rewrite the entire first page of nineteen-eighty-four by George Orwell without using the letter E.

I think it's certainly possible. Omitting 'the' would be a form of constrained writing. If you're trying to do this... well, good luck!

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    that is a bloody fascinating link. I had no idea people played such writing games. I'm familiar with drabbles, double-drabbles, acrostics, etc. but not some of the lettered ones. The Sherlock fandom also writes "221b" fics, in which either the whole story or each section has exactly 221 words and the last word must begin with B. Jan 3, 2017 at 17:03
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    Oh, yes, it's really great. You should try doing some of them, because I've found that they can actually be very challenging, rewarding and force you to stretch and manipulate the ways you write. @LaurenIpsum Jan 3, 2017 at 18:55
  • Actually (almost) every writing is constrained writing! Every novel is constrained by its plot, by its story, and by the ability of its author. We may not think of this as constrained writing, but if you have ever written anything (which you have), you will have experienced the frustrating struggle to stay within the constraints that your characters and plot and your linguistic skills put on you.
    – user5645
    Jan 3, 2017 at 19:00

Well, someone wrote a book without using the letter E, so by default the wasn't used. (according to Wiki, it does slip in three times. Very hard to avoid. Plus technically it's on the cover.) Whether the book is any good is an exercise left to the reader.

I suppose it would be fun to do as a challenge, but then the challenge is "avoiding the letter" and not "telling the best story possible using the best words for the job." So it depends on what you want to accomplish.


Actually the book "Gadsby" has no E's (except in the title obviously) yet it has over 50,000 words. So yes, it is possible to write a book without the word "the". Not saying it's easy

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    Actually, actually, there's a couple of "the"s and an "officer" that slipped through into publishing. They're easily found in the transcription on Project Gutenberg; also see the transcriber's notes at the end there. With the convenience of today's software it would be easy to avoid such slip-ups, so however hard it is, it's easier now then it was when Gadsby was written.
    – user54131
    May 17, 2022 at 5:23
  • The above is fascinating. Such constraints could be easily implemented with AI novels. But would anything interesting be produced? Aside from free verse, poetry, too, is constrained, and much of its beauty comes from those constraints.
    – Zan700
    Nov 7, 2023 at 17:36

No. It is entirely impossible to write a novel without using the word 'the'. I cannot even write that previous sentence without using that word, so I can say unequivocally that it is completely 100% impossible.

I'm attempting to balance the answers here since so many (incorrectly) believe it is possible.

Little-known fact:

Ernest Hemingway attempted to do this very thing when he wrote, The Old Man & The Sea -- amazon link (originally titled : Old Man & Sea) and he failed. He used the word 'the' only 17 times in the entire book. Read it and see. Astonishing!

Very Difficult, But I Just Completed It


Also, I recently finished an entire novel without using the word discombobulated and I'm quite proud. 98.3% of all novels include the word discombobulated, just as this very post does. It was difficult to write this post without using the word so I went ahead and did so.

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    um, so if the Gadsby writer had been a little more meticulous or had a S/R function and caught the three thes which sneaked by, would we all have disappeared up our own existence? Jan 3, 2017 at 19:41
  • Sorry, dear. I really really think you're wrong. I save my extremely rare DVs for those very few times when I think someone has genuinely posted a wrong answer. Congrats, baby. ;) Jan 3, 2017 at 19:48
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    Rewrite your second sentence as "It is entirely impossible to write a novel without any instances of that word," and it omits forbidden words entirely. So that's not a very good demonstration of impossibility, is it? Note that this comment also doesn't contain forbidden words. It's pretty easy, really. Jan 3, 2017 at 22:33

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