Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?

Traditionally, A E I O and U are vowels and the rest of the letters are consonants.
See our lesson about the difference between a vowel and a consonant for more information.

However, sometimes the letter Y represents a vowel sound AND sometimes a consonant sound.

Y as a vowel

The letter Y is considered a vowel when:

there is no other vowel in the word:

  • fry, sly, gym, myth

the Y is after a consonant at the end of a word:

  • happy, early, company, baby, twenty (in these words the Y has a long E sound)
  • July, cry, shy, sky, fly (in these words the Y has a long I sound)

the Y is after a vowel at the end of a word.
These two vowels create a diphthong.
(diphthong = a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable):

  • play, day, chimney, monkey, boy, annoy

the Y is at the end of a syllable:

  • cycle, pylon, tyrant, dynamite

the Y is in the middle of a syllable:

  • system, typical, pyramid

Look at the word mystery.
The letter Y appears in the word mystery twice.

The first Y is a vowel because it is in the middle of the syllable MYS
The final Y is a vowel because it is at the end of word (before a consonant) and has the long E sound.

Some people will say the word mystery only has one vowel because it only has one E (which is one of the five traditional vowels). However, the word mystery has three vowels because the two Ys both make a vowel sound.

Y as a consonant

When the letter Y is at the start of word it produces a distinctive Y sound.

  • Year, yellow, yes, young

When we pronounce this initial Y, we are not letting the air flow freely like a vowel.

When Y is at the start of syllable, it also has the distinctive Y sound:

  • Beyond, lawyer

Since the Y sound (for example at the beginning of a word) is so distinctive and cannot be replaced by other letters, it is this reason the letter Y is considered more a consonant than a vowel.

However as you have seen, it is more common to find the letter Y used as vowel more than as a consonant.

Summary Chart

Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant? Woodward English

Practice Exercise

Does the letter Y have a vowel sound or a consonant sound in the word?

– The Y in happy has a vowel sound
– The Y in yellow has a consonant sound
– The Y in system has a vowel sound
– The Y in fry has a vowel sound
– The Y in beyond has a consonant sound
– The Y in yes has a consonant sound
– The Y in myth has a vowel sound
– The Y in bicycle has a vowel sound
– The Y in lawyer has a consonant sound
– The Y in yard has a consonant sound

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