As said in Webster's writeup below, in English Y is mostly a consonant but is sometimes also a vowel (for example, in words ending with -ay).

In Finnish and many other languages (Swedish and French, I think - in German it's written as "ü"), there's an "y" sound that is unlike of English "y". (In Finnish, English "y" would be written as "j" or "i".) In IPA it's written as /Y/, in ASCII IPA as /I./.

Pronouncation: Round your lips for /U/ (as in "ooze") and try to say /I/ (as in "it"). (Try it. It's fun. =)

Lack of this sound in English often makes English-speaking people sound funny when they try to pronounce Finnish things. However, it's not as bad as it's case with R. =)

The answer to the frequently posed question as to whether Y is a vowel (under which this writeup once resided) is of course mu or possibly null. The question results from the confusion between two different classes of entity: the alphabetical characters of written language, and the human sounds of spoken language (phonemes or phones, doesn't really make much odds for the purposes of this diatribe). The distinction between vowels and consonants lies in the manner in which the sounds are produced by the human body (without or with the addition of friction in the breathing tract); this does not apply to "Y" which is produced with a stick in the sand, a Mont Blanc or as ASCII character 89, no breathing required.

The use of "Y" and letter combinations including "Y" in various alphabetical writing systems that use the Latin alphabet is an indicator - with varying degrees of strictness, English being one of the less tightly mapped - of the use of various phonemes. Quite a lot of them are vowels. Some aren't. Even in languages where, in the normal orthography, "Y" is used to indicate a vowel sound, it is unlikely that it does so when their speakers talk about New York, while in other symbolic uses (y=x2) the letter does not have a vocalic sound as a referent.

Nonetheless, it is unarguably true that in the International Phonetic Alphabet, the symbol y does indeed represent a vowel, and only ever a vowel (the vowel sound in French une, German für, Swedish ny, etc.)

In algebra, y is often used interchagably with x as a variable. However, in precalculus and calculus, or in any branch of math that uses functions, y is often used as the dependent variable, as opposed to x, which is the independent variable. In other words, x is the input and y is the output.

Also, in graphing, y is usually the vertical axis. Of course, all this is nothing more then convention.

In economics, Y is often used to signify National Income.

Also a small village in France, quite close to the Belgian border. Not particularly renowed for anything.

Usually, in linguistics, /y/ is considered a semi-vowel or semi-consonant (which is quite the same). This means that it neither is a full consonant nor a full vowel. It's a mix of both of them. Anyhow, in some languages the letter "y" may be, as already noded, used as a full vowel.

The reason why /y/ is regarded a semi-consonant lies in its phonological definition as a "palatal approximant". This means that, when producing the sound [j], your tongue approximates your palate, but does not touch it (if it would touch it, it would create the german "ich"-sound, [ç] in the IPA).

Another semi-consonant is the english /w/ (also [w] in IPA), which is a bilabial approximant.

Y (wye).

Y, the twenty-fifth letter of the English alphabet, at the beginning of a word or syllable, except when a prefix (see Y-), is usually a fricative vocal consonant; as a prefix, and usually in the middle or at the end of a syllable, it is a vowel. See Guide to Pronunciation, §§ 145, 178-9, 272.

It derives its form from the Latin Y, which is from the Greek , originally the same letter as V. Etymologically, it is most nearly related to u, i, o, and j. g; as in full, fill, AS. fyllan; E. crypt, grotto; young, juvenile; day, AS. daeg. See U, I, and J, G.

Y has been called the Pythagorean letter, because the Greek letter UPSILON ( Υ ) was taken to represent the sacred triad, formed by the duad proceeding from the monad; and also because it represents the dividing of the paths of vice and virtue in the development of human life.


© Webster 1913.

Y (wye), n.; pl. Y's () or Ys.

Something shaped like the letter Y; a forked piece resembling in form the letter Y.

Specifically: (a)

One of the forked holders for supporting the telescope of a leveling instrument, or the axis of a theodolite; a wye.


A forked or bifurcated pipe fitting.

(c) Railroads

A portion of track consisting of two diverging tracks connected by a cross track.

Y level Surv., an instrument for measuring differences of level by means of a telescope resting in Y's. -- Y moth Zool., a handsome European noctuid moth Plusia gamma) which has a bright, silvery mark, shaped like the letter Y, on each of the fore wings. Its larva, which is green with five dorsal white species, feeds on the cabbage, turnip, bean, etc. Called also gamma moth, and silver Y.


© Webster 1913.

Y (wye), pron.



King Horn. Wyclif.


© Webster 1913.

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