Basic Latin alphabet
Aa Bb Cc Dd    
Ee Ff Gg Hh
Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn
Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt
Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

Y (; named wye or wy, plural wyes)[1] is the twenty-fifth letter in the basic modern Latin alphabet and represents a consonant in English.




The ancestor of Y was the Semitic letter waw, from which also come F, U, V, and W. See F for details.


Greek Latin English
Old Middle Modern
Y → Y → ~ I I (Y)
yogh → consonantal Y

The usage of Y in Latin dates back to the first century BC. It was used to transcribe loanwords from Greek, so it was not a native sound of Latin and was usually pronounced /u/ or /i/. The latter pronunciation was the most common in the Classical period and was used by most people except the educated ones. The Roman Emperor Claudius proposed introducing a new letter into the Latin alphabet to transcribe the so-called sonus medius (a short vowel before labial consonants), but in inscriptions was sometimes used for Greek upsilon instead.

Y first appeared as the Greek letter upsilon. The Romans borrowed upsilon first as the letter V, representing both /u/ and its consonantal variant /w/ — U and V in Latin loan words to English.

When pronunciation of upsilon in the prestigious Attic dialect changed to /y/, the Romans borrowed it again as Y to write Greek loan-words. Y was named Y Graeca "Greek Y". This was no doubt pronounced as I Graeca "Greek I", since Latin speakers had trouble pronouncing /y/, which was not a native sound. In Romance languages, the pronunciation became the regular name: Spanish i griega, French i grec, etc.

Old English borrowed Latin Y to write the native Old English sound /y/. When the letter came to be analyzed as a V atop an I (First Grammatical Treatise), it was renamed VI (/uː iː/), which was simplified to one syllable (/wiː/), and by the Great Vowel Shift became Modern English wy (/waɪ/).

By the time of Middle English, /y/ had lost its roundedness and became identical to I (/iː/ and /ɪ/). Therefore, many words that originally had I were spelled with Y, and vice-versa. A similar substitution occurred in Latin words: original silva "wood" is spelled with Y in Pennsylvania.

(Some dialects, however, retained the sound /y/ and spelled it U, following French usage.)

Likewise, Modern English vocalic Y is pronounced identically to I. But Modern English uses it in only certain places, unlike Middle and early Modern English. It has three uses: for upsilon in Greek loan-words (system: Greek σύστημα), at the end of a word (rye, city; compare cities, where S is final), and in monosyllabic stems before vowel endings (dy-ing).


When printing was introduced from the continent, Caxton and other English printers used Y in place of Þ (thorn: Modern English th), which did not exist in continental typefaces. From this convention comes the spelling of "the" as "ye" in the mock archaism "Ye Olde Shoppe". But in spite of the spelling, pronunciation was the same as for modern "the" (stressed /ðiː/, unstressed /ðə/). Ye (/jiː/) is purely a modern spelling pronunciation.[2]


The consonantal use of Y for /j/ (year, German Jahr) is probably unrelated to vocalic use. Perhaps it was a typesetters' substitution for the Middle English letter yogh (Ȝȝ) where it represented /j/. Yogh representing the letter's other sound, /ɣ/, came to be written gh in Modern English.


In Spanish, Y is called i/y griega, in Catalan i grega, in French and Romanian i grec, in Polish igrek - all meaning "Greek i" (except for Polish, where it is simply a phonetic transcription of the French name); in most other European languages the Greek name is still used; in German, for example, it is called Ypsilon and in Portuguese and Italian it's called ípsilon or ípsilo (although in Portuguese there is also the name "Greek i"). http://www.omniglot.com/writing/portuguese.htm The letter Y was originally established as a vowel. In the standard English language, the letter Y is traditionally regarded as a consonant, but a survey of almost any English text will show that Y more commonly functions as a vowel. In many cases, it is known as a semivowel.

After fronting from /u/, Greek /y/ de-rounded to /i/.

In English morphology, -y is an adjectival suffix.

Other Germanic Languages

When not serving as the second vowel in a diphthong, it has the sound value /y/ in the Scandinavian languages and /ʏ/ in German. Y can never be a consonant (except for loanwords), but in diphthongs, as in the name Meyer, it serves as a variant of "i".

In Dutch, Y appears only in loanwords and names and usually represents /i/. It is often left out of the Dutch alphabet and replaced with the "ligature IJ". In Afrikaans, a development of Dutch, Y denotes the diphthong [ɛi], probably as a result of mixing lower case i and y or may derive from the IJ ligature.

In Faroese and Icelandic, it's always pronounced i. In both languages, it can also be the part of diphthongs: ey (both) and oy (Faroese only).


In the Spanish language, Y was used as a word-initial form of I that was more visible. (German has used J in a similar way.) Hence "el yugo y las flechas" was a symbol sharing the initials of Isabella I of Castille (Ysabel) and Ferdinand II of Aragon. This spelling was reformed by the Royal Spanish Academy and currently is only found in proper names spelled archaically, such as Ybarra or CYII, the symbol of the Canal de Isabel II. X is also still used in Spanish with a different sound in some archaisms.

Appearing alone as a word, the letter Y is a grammatical conjunction with the meaning "and" in Spanish and is pronounced /i/. In Spanish family names, y can separate the father's surname from the mother's surname as in "Santiago Ramón y Cajal"; another example is "Maturin y Domanova", from the Jack Aubrey novel sequence. Catalan names use i for this. Otherwise, Y represents in Spanish. When coming before the sound /i/, Y is replaced with E: "español e inglés". This is to avoid pronouncing /i/ twice.

The letter Y is called "i/y griega", literally meaning "Greek I", after the Greek letter ypsilon, or ye.

Other languages

Italian, too, has Y (i greca or ipsilon) in a small number of loanwords.

In Polish and Guaraní, it represents the vowel .

In Welsh it is pronounced in monosyllabic words or non-final syllables, and /ɨ/ or (depending on the accent) in final syllables.

In Finnish and Albanian, Y is always pronounced .

In Lithuanian Y is the 15th letter and is a vowel. It is called the long i and is pronounced /iː/ like in English see.

When used as a vowel in Vietnamese, the letter y represents the close front unrounded vowel. When used as a monophthong, it is functionally equivalent to the Vietnamese letter i. Thus, Mỹ Lai does not rhyme but mỳ Lee does. There have been efforts to replace all such uses with i altogether, but they have been largely unsuccessful. As a consonant, it represents the palatal approximant.

In Aymara, Turkish, Quechua as in Romaji in Japanese, all Y is a palatal consonant, always denoting .

In Japan, Ⓨ is a symbol used for resale price maintenance.

International Phonetic Alphabet

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, [y] corresponds to the close front rounded vowel, and the slightly different character [ʏ] corresponds to the near-close near-front rounded vowel.

It is indicative of the rarity of front rounded vowels that [y] is the rarest sound represented in the IPA by a letter of the Latin alphabet, being cross-linguistically less than half as frequent as or and only about a quarter as frequent as .

The IPA symbol [j] ("jod") represents the sound of the English letter [y] in the word "yes".

Technical notes

Alternative representations of Y

In Unicode the capital Y is codepoint U+0059 and the lower case y is U+0079.

The ASCII code for capital Y is 89 and for lowercase y is 121; or in binary 01011001 and 01111001, correspondingly.

The EBCDIC code for capital Y is 232 and for lowercase y is 168.

The numeric character references in HTML and XML are "Y" and "y" for upper and lower case respectively.

See also

  • Υ, υ, the Greek upsilon
  • У, у, the Cyrillic U
  • Ы, ы, the Cyrillic Yeru
  • Ү, ү, the Cyrillic Ue (Straight U)
  • ¥, a currency symbol
  • Y, chemical symbol for yttrium


  1. "Y" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "wy," op. cit.
The ISO basic Latin alphabetThis box: [[|view]]·[[|talk]]·edit
Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Letter Y with diacritics
Two-letter combinations
Ya Yb Yc Yd Ye Yf Yg Yh Yi Yj Yk Yl Ym Yn Yo Yp Yq Yr Ys Yt Yu Yv Yw Yx Yy Yz
Ay By Cy Dy Ey Fy Gy Hy Iy Jy Ky Ly My Ny Oy Py Qy Ry Sy Ty Uy Vy Wy Xy Yy Zy
Letter-digit and digit-letter combinations
    Y0 Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5 Y6 Y7 Y8 Y9     0Y 1Y 2Y 3Y 4Y 5Y 6Y 7Y 8Y 9Y    

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