Decoding the letter Y

From Teflpedia

The letter Y, lowercase y (pronounced /waɪ/) represents several sounds as a vowel and also the semivowel /j/.[1]

As a semivowel[edit]

j

yes /jes/

As a semivowel or consonant "y" represents IPA phoneme /j/. There are very few difficulties with this sound, except that the sequence /juː/ may be spelled with "u", "ue" or "ew", with no "y". See IPA phonetic sequence /juː/

  • yacht - yard - yawn - yeast - yellow - yes - yesterday - yet - yield - yob - yogurt - you - young - your - youth - yo-yo
  • beyond /bɪˈjɒnd/ or /biːˈɒnd/AmE
  • canyon - Kenya
  • lawyer /ˈlɔːjər/ or /ˈlɔɪər/ - sawyer /ˈsɔːjər/ or /ˈsɔɪər/

As a vowel[edit]

aɪə

lyre /laɪər/

ɜː

myrrh /mɜːr/

cry /kraɪ/

ɪ

gym /dʒɪm/

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
e
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
ɔɪ
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
understand
/ˌʌndərˈstænd/
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

As a single letter[edit]

The letter Y, as most vowel letters in English, has four basic pronunciations, identical to those of the letter I:

At the end of a word[edit]

One syllable
  • /aɪ/: by - cry - dry - fly - fry - my - shy - sky - sty - try - why
Several syllables
  • /aɪ/: ally - apply - classify - July - multiply (verb) - prophesy - satisfy - verify
  • /iː/ or /ɪ/: any - astronomy - biology - bully - chemistry - city - company - country - early - easy - every - family - geology - geography - happy - heresy - many - pity - prophecy - robbery - study - very
Adverbs ending in -ly: actually - certainly - especially - finally - likely - only - particularly - probably - multiply - really - simply - usually

In the middle of the word[edit]

One syllable
  • /ɪ/: gym - hymn - lynx - myth - sync
Several syllables
  • /aɪ/: analyseBrE/analyzeAmE - cycle - gynaecology/gynecology - hyphen - hypothesis - myopia - myself - psychologist - Wyoming
  • /ɪ/: crystal - cynic - homonym - physics - syllable - synthetic - sympathy - symptom - system - typical
  • /iː/ or /ɪ/: anyone, anything, anywhere, everyone, everything, everywhere, polygon
  • /ə/: analysis - Pennsylvania - pyjamas
As a gerund
  • /aɪ/: die/dying - lie/lying

Combined with a vowel[edit]

With magic e[edit]

Always as /aɪ/ or /aɪə/

  • dye - eye - rye
  • byte - hype - rhyme - style - thyme - type
  • analyseBrE/analyzeAmE - breathalyseBrE/breathalyzeAmE - catalyseBrE/catalyzeAmE - paralyseBrE/paralyzeAmE

For /aɪə/ see #In combination with “r” below.

ay[edit]

  • /eɪ/: away - clay - day - delay - display - essay - gay - grayAmE - hay - holiday - lay - may - May - pay - play - repay - relay - say - stay - today - way
  • /eɪ/ or /ɪ/: Monday - Tuesday - Wednesday - Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday - yesterday

Very often we use "ai" in the middle of the word: raise - train - wait

ey[edit]

  • Unstressed final /iː/ or /ɪ/: alley - chimney - donkey - hockey - honey - jockey - journey - Mickey - money - monkey - turkey - valley - Wembley
  • /iː/: key
  • /eɪ/: greyBrE - hey - survey - they

Very often we use "ei" in the middle of the word: eight - neighborAmE - neighbourBrE

oy[edit]

  • /ɔɪ/: boy - employ - enjoy - joy - ploy - Roy - toy
  • coyote: /kaɪˈəʊtɪ/ or /kɔɪˈəʊtɪ/

Almost always we use "oi" in the middle of the word: choice - join - point

uy[edit]

In combination with “r”[edit]

Main article: Decoding exercises: "yr"

  • /ɜː/: myrtle - myrrh
  • /ɪ/: lyrics - myriad - pyramid - syringe - syrup
  • /ə/: martyr
  • /aɪ/: thyroid
  • Sequence /aɪə/: tyreBrE

Curiosities[edit]

Two different pronunciations in same word: gynaecology, psychology

Homophones[edit]

See main article Homophone.

  • bite - byte; by - buy; die - dye; hay - hey; time - thyme; way - weigh

Grammar[edit]

This section is about words ending in -y pronounced /iː/ or /ɪ/. See also Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/ § Unstressed syllable.

Many two-syllable adjectives end in -y:

  • dirty - early - happy - pretty - silly - ugly;

In some cases, that y is a suffix to nouns and verbs:[2]

  • fog - foggy; fun - funny; grease - greasy; mess - messy; noise - noisy; run - runny; sand - sandy; smell - smelly; stick - sticky; sun - sunny; taste - tasty; wind - windy

and, as -ly, for adverbs:

  • firmly - loudly - noisily - quietly - yearly

Adverbs ending in -cally have a silent a.

  • automatically, basically, dramatically, specifically, typically

"Y" can also form a noun from an adjective:

  • honesty - jealousy - orthodoxy[3]

Another typical use is as a noun in itself or as a diminutive or familiar name (the same words can often be spelt "-ie" (auntie/aunty)[4]

  • Bobby - Bobbie; caddy - caddie; footieBrE - footyBrE (football); hippy - hippie; hoody - hoodie; Jimmie - Jimmy; Johnnie - Johnny; tummy (stomach);

As a shortening or clipping

  • Indy (Indianapolis); indie (independent); #indyref2 (independence referendum number 2); tellyBrE (television)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]