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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

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