When is ‘Y’ a Vowel? When is ‘Y’ a Consonant?

(Last Updated On: December 5, 2017)

When is 'Y' a Vowel?

Y: When is it a vowel ? When is it a consonant?

For a long time, Sporclers have been in hot debate over whether the letter Y is a vowel or consonant. Here at Sporcle we say:

We used to take consonant/vowel quizzes on a quiz-by-quiz basis. You’ll find plenty of published quizzes that say “Y included” or “A, E, I, O, U only” to clarify their Y conventions. More recently, we’ve begun standardizing our published quizzes and classifying Y as both a consonant and vowel based on usage.

By Sporcle standards, there are more than 5 vowels in the English language. This is because Sporcle uses the primary definition of vowel, which distinguishes a vowel based on sounds rather than letters. By this definition, letters themselves are neither vowels or consonants. Letters represent the sounds that vowels and consonants make. What’s special about ‘Y’ is that it can make sounds corresponding to both consonants and vowels.

So what exactly makes a sound a vowel versus a consonant? Here’s how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a vowel:

The rules of vowel determination depend on mouth conformation when pronouncing a sound. Let’s go over the specific rules for the letter Y.

• If the Y makes a hard Y sound (as in ‘yes’ or ‘beyond’), Y is a consonant.
• If the Y makes a short I sound (as in ‘myth’ or ‘gym’), Y is a vowel.
• If the Y makes a long I sound (as in ‘my’ or ‘fly’), Y is a vowel.
• If the Y makes a long E sound (as in ‘Germany’ or ‘hungry’), Y is a vowel.
• If the Y is part of a digraph–two letters that make a sound together–(as in ‘May’ or ‘abbey’), Y is considered a vowel.

As always, different places have different conventions. The conventions we’ve described aren’t the only way to frame vowels in your mind, but they are the go-to Sporcle standard.

To sum it up:

Want to test out your newfound Y knowledge? Practice your Y determination skills here:

About the Author:

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Pearl does a variety of media-related tasks at Sporcle, including blog writing, video production, and social media maintenance. She does research on penguins, enjoys snail mucus in her skincare, and once turned herself Sporcle Orange from eating too many carrots.