You've heard that the English vowels are A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. But when is Y a vowel, and when is it a consonant? Keep reading for an easy guide to determine when Y is working as the vowel in a word, and when it's not.
When Is Y a Vowel? Easy Guide to Words With Y
Words Where Y is a Vowel
Even though "y" is technically a consonant, there are many more instances in which it functions as a vowel. You'll hear it work as a long /e/ sound (as in city or party), short /i/ sound (as in cyst or symbol) or long /i/ sound (as in fly or shy) depending on the word it's in. It can also be part of a vowel team.
The easy way to remember is this:
If the "y" isn't at the beginning of the word or beginning of a syllable, it's functioning as a vowel.
Take a look at the different times when "y" functions as a vowel.
When There Are No Other Vowels
Every English word contains a vowel. If there are no other vowels in a word, "y" takes on a vowel sound. Words that include only "y" and no other vowels are:
Notice that in a few of these words, "y" appears more than once to make two different sounds. In pygmy, for example, "y" functions as a short /i/ sound and as a long /e/ sound (pig-mee).
When Y Follows the Last Consonant of a Word
English words can't end in the letter "i." That's why you'll often find "y" at the end of a word after a consonant. Examples of "y" at the end of a word include:
"Y" usually functions as a long /e/ sound (as in pretty), though sometimes you'll find it working as a long /i/ sound (as in deny). Whenever you create an adjective by adding a "y" to a noun, you're using "y" as a vowel. The same applies to adding -ly to a verb when forming an adverb.
When Y Follows the Last Vowel of a Word
Many English words end in a diphthong, such as -ay, -ey and -oy. In these cases, "y" follows the last vowel of the word. Here are some words that end in a vowel and "y":
When you see that a word ends with a vowel and "y," you don't change the spelling to make the word plural. For example, monkey becomes monkeys, not monkies.
When Y Is at the End of a Syllable
You can also find "y" functioning as a vowel when it's at the end of a syllable. These syllables can make up any part of the word, so the "y" may appear anywhere. Here are some words where "y" is found at the end of a beginning or middle syllable:
Most, if not all, of the words that follow this pattern have Greek origins. Take note of words like prayer, as the "y" still functions as a vowel even when you add a suffix like -er.
When Y Is in the Middle of a Syllable
The last way you'll find "y" function as a vowel is in the middle of a syllable. The word syllable is an example of this rule; when you break it into syl-la-ble, you'll see the "y" is working as a short /i/ sound. More examples include:
All of these words use "y" as either a short /i/ or long /i/ sound. Once you start noticing these particular "y" words, you'll find them everywhere you look!
Words Where Y Is a Consonant
Now that you know when "y" is a vowel, when is it actually a consonant? There are only two instances when you use "y" as a consonant: when it begins a word, and when it begins a syllable.
When Y Is the First Letter in a Word
If a word begins with "y," it's using the /y/ consonant sound. While there aren't too many words that start with "y," there are enough to understand the rule. Take a look at some common words that use "y" as their initial sound:
Many words that start with "u," such as union and use, begin with a /y/ sound. But they don't actually include the letter itself.
When Y is the First Letter in a Syllable
The other way to use "y" as a consonant is when it begins the second or third syllable in a word. Examples of these words include:
You may observe that these words are originally from other languages, including Japanese and Spanish. There aren't many words of English origin that include a "y" as the first letter in a syllable.
Take the Why Out of Y
"Y" is one of the most versatile letters in the English language. But now that you know its pronunciation rules, it doesn't have to be confusing! Keep your phonics knowledge fresh with these examples of word families. If you're ready to move on, practice these common digraphs in the English language.