Fortunately of the many vowel phonic and spelling rules in English ” Y as a vowel ” is one of the easier ones to teach. In this article we cover explanation, lesson ideas, resources and videos to help it easier for your students and children to grasp.
Y as a Vowel Rules
When the letter /y/ is at the start of English words is pronounced /y/ as in yes. However when it is at the end of the word it makes a long vowel sound. In one syllable words like shy or fry is usually makes the sound of long /i/. In two plus syllable words /y/ changes to a long /e/ sound. E.G. In words like cherry or actually.
Y as a vowel can certainly be confusing to students and although the basic explanation above, the one minute video below cover most of the times /y/ will be used there are more and we will cover those for you below.
Quick 1 minute Video on the rules for you all
Lets take a deeper look at Y as a vowel rules. The letter ”y” can be both a consonant and a vowel and both its position in a word and what other letters precede it can influence this. Although there are rules we can teach our students that help to explain this concept this is English, so there is and always will be exceptions.
As mentioned ”y” can be a consonant and a vowel. The ”y” usually makes the consonant sound when it is a the beginning of the word. Examples are words like yellow, yacht, yes, or you. This rules is for English words, some words have been drafted into English from other languages, and although unlikely to be used with young learners, Y as a Vowel, rather than a consonant at the beginning of a word can appear in French words for example. like Yves. These are fortunately rare!
Just to be extra confusing the letter ”y” has more than one vowel sound. As well as the consonant sound at the beginning. There are some rules you can use to explain to your students. If the ”y” is at the end of the word, and it is a one syllable word (I will put syllable lessons for young learners on my site as well) like dry, try, buy, why then the ‘‘y” will make the sound of a long i.
If the word has the ”y” at the end but it has two or more syllables then the sound of ”y” is the long e sound. Word examples include candy, actually, fundamentally, tiny, wavy and many many more.
Y in the Middle of a Word
Now for the tricky y as a vowel sound words. There will be one, there is always one, students who when you ask them to give you a word with a Y in it will say bicycle, gym, system or type. Fortuntly these are less common words, and this has only happened once to me in 13 years of teaching. Still it is nice to know the reasons why, and the rules behind it.
The bad news is there are few hard and fast rules on why this happens. However we can let you know that the vowel sound that y will make is either short or long /i/ vowel sound. Most of these words, in the table below, have to be taught as sight words on an as and when basis. I am not sure if this is good or bad news but there are about 500 or so of these types of words. That link goes to y as a vowel word list.
We have given some examples in the table below> Along with the rules, where we have them. We also provide a link to a worksheet and will make our own should you wish to highlight these differences as well.
|Y as Consonant Sound|
(Usually at the beginning
of a word)
|Y as Vowel Sound long /i/|
(usually at end of a one
|Y as Vowel Sound long /e/|
(usually at end of a two or more
|Y as Vowel Sound short /i/ |
(usually in the middle of a word)
|Y as Vowel Sound long /i/|
(usually in the middle of
|Y as Vowel Sound Long /a/|
(y makes the a say its name)
You may have noticed I included a column at the end of the table. If the Y at the end of the word is immeditaley preceded by a letter /a/. Then it causes the /a/ to say its name.
To teach this i have some worksheets and word sorting activities you can check out and i will link to them at the bottom, but also if you need stories and some online games or activities I have found some on the StarFall website. This is a Y as Long e game you can check out.
The worksheets and sorting activities can help form part of a full phonics lesson if you want to teach this. They can be downloaded at the bottom, and if you want to add or edit it i will leave the PowerPoint version too.
To the resources page if you want to check out more
Post by Marc of Making English Fun
About the Author
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!