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Y (letter)

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Y, y is a letter of the Latin alphabet. It is the twenty-fifth and penultimate letter of most variants, being placed after X and before Z, as is the case for instance in the English alphabet. Its English name is [ˈwaɪ], like the name of the River Wye, why pronounced with an English accent (i.e. without the American, Scottish etc. aspiration of wh).

Use in English

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Use in English
Alphabetical word list
Retroalphabetical list  
Common misspellings  

y is another version of i - but used very differently (though in exactly the same way in dŷe colour = dîe dead). Unlike i, it can also be a consonant (also called a semi-consonant), and as such it often begins words. The sound is that of the end of the i sound in such words as flîer, skìêr, viôla, piáno: yés, yoúng, yoû, yéllow, beyónd, yôlk egg (= yôke ox), yógurt/yóghurt/yóghourt.

  • The accents show stress and pronunciation (see English spellings): A: sát, mâde, pàrk, cāst (cást/càst), åll, ãir; E: ére, êar, vèin, fërn; I: sít, mîne, skì, bïrd; O: sóng, môde, lòve, wörd, ŏr; OO: moôn, foòt; U: sún, mûse, fùll, pürr; W: neŵ, ẁant; Y: gým, mŷ, keỳ, mÿrrh.

But it is at its most frequent as a vowel at the end of words. Here it is often pronounced like the word Î at the end of monosyllables: whŷ, flŷ, guŷ, stŷ, prŷ, crŷ, trŷ, buŷ, and in the middle: stŷle, mŷre, bŷte computer (= bîte eat). Hŷde (as in Hŷde Pàrk or Dr Jékyll and Mr Hŷde) sounds like hîde, as it does in (and often at the end of) words of two syllables: Julŷ, relŷ, denŷ, pŷlon, nŷlon, pŷthon, sŷphon, decrŷ, supplŷ, applŷ, and in words of more than one syllable: beaûtifŷ, dèifŷ, crûcifŷ, mágnifŷ, BrE páralŷse, ánalŷse (in AmE, both -yze), and stressed in hŷacinth, dŷnamite, Dionŷsus, papŷrus.

The two verbs lîe untrue (regular, principal parts: lîe, lîed, lîed) and lîe relax (irregular: lîe, lây, lâin) both have lŷing as their -ing form.

The short sound is identical to the short í. It tends to occur after certain letters: sýrup, sýstem, sýnagogue, sýndicate, sýnthesis, sýntax, sýmptom, sýmbol sign = cýmbal drum, cýgnet, cýst, cýstic, crýpt, crýptic, crýstal, gým, glýph. sy- is always - with the exceptions of Sŷracûse and sŷphon – which can also be spelt sîphon.

Double letters after y are very rare: sýllable, sýllabus, Lýttelton, and, with a different vowel sound, mÿrrh.

The prefix dýs- bad is easily confused with the much more common prefix, dís- negative, which sounds exactly the same: dýsentery, dysléxic, dysfúnction, cf. distâste, disallòw, disfâvour, disdâin, dislîke.

The grave accent sound (corresponding to the ì of Christìne) is actually the most common use of y as a vowel: at the end of words of more than one syllable, it is an unstressed and short ê: fúnnỳ, síllỳ, jéllỳ, anỳ, manỳ (*énnỳ, *ménnỳ), loônỳ, fíddlỳ, fídgetỳ, scrúffỳ, púffỳ, dóttỳ, héadỳ, réadỳ, stéadỳ, Bíllỳ, knóttỳ, íffỳ, jíffỳ, wòrrỳ, sórrỳ, dóllỳ, jóllỳ, súnnỳ, and also after ê itself in mònêy, hònêy, phônêy, balônêy, mâtêy, hóckêy. (When final and stressed this sound is spelt êe: referêe, employêe, trustêe, degrêe.)

In the middle of words the tends to shorten to ý: pólýthene, páchýderm (*páckíderm).

In final position, y completes other long vowels: awây, sây, thèy, destrŏy, buŷ. (Compare: mâil, vèin, cŏin, Ruîslip.)

In monosyllables, ê and êe are usually used for this sound: thrêe, sêe, wê us = wêe small, is = bêe insect. But not always, and here is the rare stressed (usually with another vowel): kêỳ lock = quaỳ harbour.

And can be an alternative to ì or ê in names (often French): Lỳse (-z), Mervỳna, Evelỳna, Rhỳs (= Rêece etc.) and unstressed in Yvónne, Yvétte, plus Ỳves man (= Êve woman) and the French city Lỳón, cf. lîon animal = Lŷon person. It also occurs as the first vowel of Mỳanmàr, a variant pronunciation of the intended *Myánmà/Myànmà, and in Palmỳra, a variant pronunciation of Palmŷra.

The suffix -tỳ is unstressed: líbertỳ, eqùalitỳ, fratërnitỳ, súbtletỳ, normálity, as is -cỳ: fáncỳ, pólicỳ, délicacỳ, nŏrmalcy, and similarly apóstasỳ.

Final y changes to -ie- before the suffixes -s and -ed: crŷ, crîes, trŷ, trîed, wòrry, wòrries, fratërnity, fratërnities but not where there is another vowel preceding the y: destrŏyed, plâyed, prâys, buŷs, óspreys, says (*séz) and of course not where there is an apostrophe intervening (for these are grammatically different): Dáddy’s, bâby’s, Jácky’d, Julŷ’s. Welsh names are also an exception, and have the hissing sound: Gládýs, Cárýs, Pòwys, all -íss.

Final ŷ changes to í before other suffixes: mérríment, BrE wòrrísome, AmE wörrísome, undenîable, verifîable.

In many Welsh names such as Plaîd Cymru (*Plîde Cúmrì), y is pronounced as ú.

The full declension of a noun ending in -y

singular plural
normal àrmy àrmies
possessive àrmy’s àrmies’

àrmies = àrmy’s = àrmies’: all pronounced the same.

The ys in lábyrinth *lábrínth and Îslay *Îlə are silent, as are also those in the names of Sámuel Pêpys (= pêeps) and Dúncan Sándys (= sánds).

yy is found only in foreign names: Ômar Khayyám, Aŷyub, Tàyyip.

y cannot follow i, so *Líbìya is spelt Líbya.

Scientific uses

  • Y: yttrium