‘Y’ — the casual vowel

LetterYYes, we  all know that ‘Y’ is a consonant, but sometimes it likes to masquerade as a vowel. It carries out its duty as a consonant at the beginning of words like yacht and yellow, you, yes and yodel, but put it at the end of a word, and it screams like a vowel, crying ‘ee’! Verbs ending in ‘y’ often leave the ‘y’ out and place an ‘i’ in its place when changing form to past tense or a noun with the ending -ed or -er. Take note of cried, copied, fried to name a few, then the noun copier. Similarly, the same happens with the suffix -es, as in cities, spies, and flies. Other words with suffixes will also drop the ‘y’ — alliance, bounciness, marriage, plentiful, reliable.

Conversely, the ‘y’ can kick out an ‘e’ at the end of a noun to create an adjective. But there is a struggle at times, with the ‘e’ staying in place while the ‘y’ just has to follow. Examples include cagey, dicey, gamey and noseywhile bony, stony and wiry tend to leave the ‘e’ out.

Children and adults will often apply a ‘y’ informally to a word in colloquial conversation, such as in doggy, mummy, piggy, footy and telly. 

These insights into the use of ‘y’ as a vowel and more can be found in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters, published by Cambridge University Press.

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