The 'y' vowel sound

Discussion in 'English Only' started by TyrannosaurusBatman, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. TyrannosaurusBatman New Member

    Hi I was wondering how you distinguish between the pronunciation of the y vowel sounds in words. Take for example


    is different from




    Are there any rules for this?
  2. xyzyxx Senior Member

    USA - Iowa
    English - USA
    There aren't any rules to help you remember, as far as I know. You just have to memorize each word's pronunciation.
    Y can be a pretty strange letter.
  3. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    You say your native language is English, is this so? If not what is it?

    There probably are rules, but to learn them, you would have to learn the etymology of each word; did it come from Latin, Germanic, French, or somewhere else?
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi TyrannosaurusBatman

    If you're talking about y following a consonant [ie not about words like "boy" or "may"], then I'd say the simplest rule of thumb is:

    (1) At the end of one-syllabled words, the sound is like "I" or "eye" - my, why, cry, fly.

    (2) At the end of words with more than one syllable, the sound is like the "-ee" in "see" - any, Jenny, smelly, silently, unequivocally.

    (3) When it's not at the end of a word, the sound is like the "i" in "it" - syndicate, synthetic.

    There are bound to be exceptions. But this will give you a place to start:).
  5. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    There are combinations of letters for which there are...well, I don't know about rules, but which are pretty reliable regarding the y-sound. For example, syn and sym always (or almost always?) produce a short "i" sound. And when a two-syllable word ends with "y," doesn't it usually have a long-e sound? And speaking of "syllable," the "y" in words that start with syl always has a short-i sound too, I think...

    So there are guidelines out there, but jeez, I don't know how much good they'll do you. There just isn't a simple pattern or even a couple of simple patterns.

    Edit: Cross-posted with Loob.
  6. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    For words of more than one syllable ending in 'y', there may be a rule about whether the end syllable is stressed. For instance, for me, the following rhyme with 'eye' and they are stressed on the last syllable:

    ally adds a complication. As a verb meaning 'to side with' the stress is on the second syllable. As a noun, the stress is on the first, but in both cases, it rhymes with 'eye'.

    There are bound to be exceptions to any rule, as Loob says.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
  7. icecreamsoldier

    icecreamsoldier Senior Member

    New Zealand English
    I agree. This affects a lot of science-related words like phytoplankton and cryogenics, where the 'y' is pronounced /ai/ as in why (exceptions to Loob's rule number 3, which otherwise covers most words I can think of off the top of my head).
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012

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