Dictionary.com Word FAQs
Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?
The letter Y stands for a consonant in "yoke" but for a vowel in "myth." The answer to the question is that Y is the only letter commonly used as both vowel and consonant in English. A consonant is a sound in spoken language (or alphabetic letter denoting the sound) that has no vocal sound of its own but relies upon a nearby vowel with which it can sound. Consonant is from the Latin words con 'with' and sonant 'sound'. A vowel is a sound in spoken language that has a vocal sound of its own; it is made by a fairly open configuration of the vocal tract. The letter Y is probably used more often as a vowel, but in the role of vowel it is often interchangeable with the letter I. They overlap, so Y is often pronounced like short or long I ("myth," "fly"), although sometimes like long E ("messy") and occasionally as a schwa ("myrtle," "satyr"). In "say" and "boy," Y forms a single sound with the preceding vowel, similar to the double-vowel combinations in "paid" and "void." The consonant sound Y is not consistently represented in English spelling by any other letter, which is probably why we tend to think of it mainly as a consonant. It has just one sound, the y of "youth" and "yearning." Around AD 100, about 700 years after the Roman alphabet had been created, the Romans added the letters Y and Z. They were copied directly from the Athenian Greek alphabet of the day and this was done to help in transliterating Greek words into Latin. The use of Y as a consonant goes back to medieval French and it was forcibly imported to England with the Norman Conquest of AD 1066.