a, e, i, o, u... and sometimes y? I don't think so

We were watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire last night and one of the questions was…

Which letter is used most often in the English language?

a. A
b. T
c. S
d. E

The answer was E of course.

The woman playing made the comment that you can’t have a word without a vowel. Upon hearing this I told my fiancee that I work with a man that doesn’t have any vowels in his last name… Sychtysz. Matt said that Y is considered a vowel sometimes because of the sound… such as SHY, CRY, etc. I told him he was full of shit. I have never heard of such a thing.

We made a bet and I told him that I would check it out and thought that I would come here first before calling my old English teacher. I’m pretty sure that I am but I wondered if any of you dopers had ever heard of this “Y being a vowel sometimes” rule in English.

Sorry, but I think you’re going to lose this bet, Rachelle. The rule was a standard bit as I was going through grade school.

Yes, that’s the way I was taught oh-so-many years ago in kindergarten. “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.”

By the way, there is a muscal instrument called a crwth (pronounced “kruth”). So, “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y… and W”?

Most definately. I always learned a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y. But the real question is whether you have to purchase y as a vowel in Wheel of Fortune. Methinks not. Therefore, it’s not a real vowel. And so sayeth Vanna White.

I don’t remember ever hearing this rule!! Any references or links I can look at? Damn, I’m gonna lose my bet!!!

For the record, yes ‘Y’ is sometimes a vowel. But words don’t have to have a vowel in them ‘nth’ comes to mind.

Yes, “y” plays the role of a vowel in some words,

vow·el (voul)
n. Abbr. v.

                       2.A letter, such as a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y in the English alphabet, that represents a vowel.

con·so·nant (kns-nnt)

 n. Abbr. cons.

                       1.A speech sound produced by a partial or complete obstruction of the air stream by any of various
                            constrictions of the speech organs.
                       2.A letter or character representing such a speech sound.

So, in other words, whether it’s a vowel or a consonant depends on the sound the “y” stands for.

“Y” is a consonant. It is as simple as that. You can have words without vowels, like syzygy, but for those who cannot comprehend a word without vowels the rule “a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y” is a helpful learning tool. “Y” is not actually a vowel.

Or “tsk”. Hmm…

I wouldn’t be surprised if “crwth” were a Welsh word, so “w” wouldn’t count.

Once, I was walking down [some street] and this incredible looking Swedish girl said hello and we started talking…

…and I asked her if I could call her sometime and she said sure, call me if you WANT to… right, if I want to…

…she let me keep my boots on…

Man, I’m gonna lose this bet aren’t I? Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!!!

I believe that would then be correctly spelled t*sk and [e]nth. :slight_smile:

<Ye olde completely irrelevant hyjacke>
In old English, there was a letter called “thorn” which looked like a capital Y, but had the “th” sound. So, to complicate matters, not only could Y be a consonant, like in “yellow”, and a vowel with a long I sound like in “cry”, but the above hijack should be pronounced “the old …”

Oh, and in period movies when the town crier is hollering “Hear ye! Hear ye!”, it should be pronounced “Hear thee”, since it is the formal 3rd person plural.

We now return you to your regular programming

Rachelle, you lost the bet.

What was the bet?

Inquiring minds and all that.

This is the key point. The sounds represented by y and w in the English language vary between these constrictions and the unobstructed passage of air through the speech organs - the characteristics attributed to vowels. Given this, many linguists call y and w semi-vowels, although I guess w is more a point of contention than y. Ultimately, in English I guess a more precise statement would be that you can’t have a word without at least a semi-vowel in it. I’ll save the nuances of nth and ‘tsk’ for another thread.

As for your cow orker’s name, Rachelle, in Polish the letter y is a definite vowel sound - it represents one sound only, as opposed to the versatility of our version.

So, what’s your penalty? Or do we not want to know?


As in “whale” if you use the pronunciation (my ex drove me nuts with this, it sounded so forced) of “h’Wãl”.

Third person? Imperatives (“hear!”) are directed to the second person in the languages I’ve dabbled in (sometimes the 1st plural (“rappellons”, “allons-y”). The formal and plural second person is you/ye, which has supplanted the informal and singular “thou/thee”.

Yeah but if the word has been borrowed into English it counts as an English word, too… “cwm” for example. “W” is therefore a very, very rare English vowel.

And why is it “sometimes Y”? I imagine y appears in English words in a vowel role a lot more than it represents the consonantal (or semi-vowel) y-sound. And it doesn’t even have the y-sound to itself; e- and i-dipthongs and h are often sounded with the y-sound in English.