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Reading Spotlight Blog -

Is Y a Vowel?

Twybdyllyngs* —the longest word in English without a vowel


—or does it have a vowel?


Question: Is Y a vowel?

Answer: It depends.


The y sound and symbol have a long history, beginning in the Semitic and Phoenician alphabets and moving through Greek and Latin in the first century BC. Although Latin had no y sound, the Greek symbol (upsilon) was used in writing “foreign” words. Eventually, the y symbol became more common in European languages, then in Old English and in Middle English.


Today y is usually used for these sounds and spellings in English:

  1. As a consonant, y can be found at the beginning of many words, such as in

            yak, yard, yes, year, young, yoga.

  1. As a vowel, y makes a long i sound in stressed, open syllables, such as in

            my, by, why, cycle, typhoon, tyrant.

  1. As a vowel, y also makes a short i sound in closed syllables, such as in

            myth, system, typical, cynic, crystal.

 4. As a vowel, y makes the long e sound in multisyllable words at the end of the word, such as baby, happy, donkey, salty, really, party.


5. Sometimes y is found as long a in combination with a and e, such as clay, play, pray, they, obey.


  1. There are other sounds that the letter y makes in this complicated spelling system we have in English, sometimes in diphthongs or with the letter r.

As you can see, the letter y has a complex background and multi-pronunciations. This makes the letter y difficult for struggling readers. For simple, engaging, and effective practice in the basic sounds of the letter y, see

Word Searches: Sounds of the Letter Y

It is available with many other phonics word searches in the

Reading Spotlight Store


Good-bYe for now!



Sources include Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and Wikipedia

© Reading Spotlight 2023


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