John Larrysson's Column: Pronouncing The letter Y At The End Of A Word

The letter Y at the end of a word has four possible vowel sounds. These are long I, Long E, Long A and the OY sound

A long I sound is found in one-syllable words with a lone-vowel letter Y at the end of the word. For example: cry, fry, my, pry, shy, sky....  A -UY ending is uncommon, but makes a long I sound as in buy and guy, unless it is a -QUY ending. The -QUY combination, as in soliloquy, is rare, but it makes a KW-long E sound. In words with no other vowel a final Y will usually be pronounced with a long I sound. 

[audio 1]

A long E sound is found in two-syllable words, with a lone vowel Y at the end of the word. For example: baby, belly, hungry, funny, candy, bunny and city.1 These words all have another vowel, earlier in the word and not next to the letter Y. In such words, a final vowel letter Y will usually be pronounced with a long E sound. 

[audio 2]

A long A or E sound is used when Y at the end of a word is preceded by A or E. Words ending with -AY have a long A sound; this includes play, clay, say and may. When a word ends with -EY it usually makes a long E sound as in key, honey, parsley or barley. The pattern is not perfect. In some words an -EY ending can make a long A sound as in they, survey, whey, prey, grey and parley

[audio 3]

It is a continuing annoyance to students of English that letters in English represent more than one sound. An -OY ending makes the OI/OY sound (  Please note that an –IY ending is not normally found in English. The letter Y at the end of a word produces a series of different sounds. However the sound usually falls into predictable patterns. 

[audio 4]


1. In some UK accents this sound is in a half-long vowel, somewhere between a short I and a long E. However it is safest to just teach long E, as that is the more common pronunciation. 

Other Articles on Phonics or Spelling/Pronunciation Pattern:

The Letter Y at The Middle of a Word

The Letter Y at The Front of a Word

Long U or Long OO

When is Initial U Short and when is it Long ?

The Long U Digraphs (EW,UE)

Magic E and the Long U Sound

Hard And Soft G Spelling Patterns

Common G Spelling Patterns

How We Got Hard And Soft G

-ING Endings


PH in Suffixes and Prefixes

The F sound: FF & GH

The F Sound

The Oi/Oy Sound

Silent D Is Not Always Silent




Stranger Pronunciations of C


The Letter C is Useless

The letter B

The aw-sound

The Schwa Sound

The Magic-e

The Letter A a

by John Larrysson [email protected]  

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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