John Larrysson's Column: The Grammar of Y at the End of a Word (3 of 3)
The Exceptions & A Summary

In the last two articles I covered the -Y suffixes. Two are from Norman French and two are from Old English. The meanings include, the status of, the condition of, having the quality of, and the diminutive. A summary chart is included below. This time I want to cover the awkward, but interesting exceptions.

[audio 1]

Often the original root word is no longer in use. With some words we have forgotten that there is a suffix e.g. happy. hap + Y (hap in Middle English meant lucky, from the Old Norse happ) The word happy eventually replaced the original English word of the same meaning, blithe. The word baby is the diminutive of the Middle English baban, but eventually replaced the original word.   

[audio 2]

While a common structure, not every -Y ending word is derived from a suffix. A few -Y ending words come from other miscellaneous sources. The names of the UK islands of Jersey and Guernsey are derived from compound words that use the Old Norse ey meaning island. The word guy, meaning a man, is from the Italian name Guido. Many common short words ending with -Y are from very ancient sources and are not the result of a suffix. These include cry, fly and honey.  

[audio 3]

Less often the letter Y gives us a consonant sound in the middle of a word, as in beyond (Old English), canyon (Mexican-Spanish) and lawyer. The word beyond is the Old English prefix and the root word yond. The now-obsolete root word is also the origin of the word yonder. The word lawyer is from the Old English word law and the French suffix -ier. The -yer spelling is an English anomaly. Words with an internal Y-consonant sound tend to have unusual histories.

[audio 4]

Usually words that end with a Y can be grouped by a similar meaning having the quality of, the status of, the condition of and the diminutive. Taking a list of words and dividing them into these different groups can be a useful exercise for stronger students. However it is always good to keep in mind that not every Y ending is a suffix.

[audio 5]

Y-related Articles:

The Grammar of Y at the End of a Word (2 of 3)

The Grammar of Y at the End of a Word (1 of 3)

Pronouncing The letter Y At The End Of A Word

Pronouncing The Letter Y at The Middle of a Word

Pronouncing The Letter Y at The Front of a Word

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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