The letter "y" in the middle of a word
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 134th episode.
I'm going to stick with vowels spellings one more week and talk about a letter I really haven't talked about very much: the letter y. Specifically, I'm going to talk about the letter y when it is between two consonants. The letter y at the beginning of a word is generally pronounced as a y sound alone (as in the word yes) or as the beginning y sound of the two-sound vowel, long u sound (as in the word youth). If the letter y occurs at the end of a word, it is often pronounced as a long i (as in the word my) or a long e (as in the word any).
Today, however, I want to talk about y when it is in the middle of a word and is between two consonants. Luckily, there are only two different common pronunciations for this spelling: short i and long i. The short i pronunciation seems to be about twice as common as the long i. Let's get into some of the details.
The short i sound is pronounced (short i); it is the vowel sound in the word sit. The short i is a rather relaxed sound, and is one of the two common sounds for an unstressed vowel (listen to podcast episode 126 for more details on short i as an unstressed vowel sound). My tongue is rounded upward for this sound, but not so much that I create a long e sound (long e). Listen to a comparison of the short i and long e; I'll say the short i sound first: (short i, long e, short i, long e).
Some examples of the letter y pronounced as a short i include the words system, typical, and bicycle.
The long i is pronounced (long i). It is a two-sound vowel. The tongue is neutral at the beginning of the sound, and then moves upward into a sound similar to a y sound. If I say the sound very slowly, hopefully you can hear both parts of the sound (long i) . The long i is the vowel sound in the word bike (b sound, long i, k sound). Some examples of the letter y pronounced as a long i include the words type, cycle, and analyze.
To help you predict the pronunciation of the letter y, I looked through the 5000 most frequently used words according to A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English. This spelling really isn't very common; there are only 28 words within the top 5000 words that have a letter y in the middle of a word between two consonants. Actually, there were more than that, but I didn't count compound words like anywhere or myself where the y is the final letter of the first word.
So, of the 28 words I found, 20 of them are pronounced with a short i, and only eight are are pronounced with a long i. Basically, that means that two of every three words spelled consonant-y-consonant are pronounced with a short i.
Some loose patterns that might help you predict the long i pronunciation include: first, the letter after the second consonant is the letter e. This works for the words type, style, and analyze. Also, the prefix hypo-, as in the word hypothesis is pronounced as a long i, and so is the spelling dyn- as in the word dynamic.
Outside of those few patterns, consonant-y-consonant tends to be a short i pronunciation.
Before we do a quick practice of sounds for this spelling, I want to let you know about a few different things. First, we've put together a Vowels eBooklet that includes all of the spelling and pronunciation patterns for the vowels and r-controlled vowels of American English. Along with all 24 lessons, you also get the complete audio for the lessons in MP3 format. This is meant to help you really understand the crazy spelling patterns of English vowels while hearing the examples for each spelling.
Also, separate from the Vowel eBooklet, there is a new exercise posted to Pronuncian that lists all of the consonant-y-consonant words in the top 5000 most frequent words, and includes audio of them for you to listen to and practice. Access to all of Pronuncian's exercises is one of the benefits that subscribers get for helping to support this show financially. You can find the exercises for today's episode as links from the short i and long i spelling and pronunciation lessons, which I will link to from this show's transcripts page. As always, you can find the free transcripts at www.pronuncian.com/podcast.
Now, let's practice some high-frequency words spelled consonant-y-consonant. Listen for the difference in pronunciation between the short i (short i), and the long i (long i). I'll say words that are pronounced with a short i first, and I'll leave time for you to repeat after me:
Now for some words pronounced long i:
As I say in every episode, listening to an audio book while seeing the text in a physical book can really help you notice both common spelling patterns as well as the exceptions. You can get a free audio book by signing up for a free 2-week trial of Audible.com. You get to keep your audio book even if you cancel your subscription before the trial is complete. Just go to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian.
That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.
Thanks for listening.
About the ESL/ELL Teacher
Mandy has been teaching ESL, pronunciation and accent reduction since 2005 at Seattle Learning Academy, an English language school in Seattle, Washington, USA. She uses her experience with intermediate to advanced students to create the topics that most affect students living and working in the United States and can help them communicate better and more clearly.