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.
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