“When is Y not a vowel?”

I still remember the stormy March day almost five years ago when my daughter learned that not all vowels were constants. A, E, I, O, and U are always vowels, but that Y is a trickster. Sometimes he’s a vowel, sometimes he’s not.

This news was extremely distressing for The (then) Four-Year-Old.

Back in those days, she needed things to stay in their assigned places.  Her crayons were either blue or red, never teal or pink. The characters in her picture books were either all good or all bad. The letters on her blocks were either vowels or consonants. Full stop.

Her teacher’s calm statement that Y was a sometimes vowel rocked my daughter’s orderly world to the core.

Fortunately for me, her preschool teacher took the brunt of The (then) Four-Year-Old’s dismay. My daughter had pretty well resigned herself to the situation by the time I picked her up from school. Still, she needed to install some clear boundaries around the subject.

“Mommyo,” she asked over a yummy afternoon snack, “When is Y not a vowel?”

Thankfully, a quick Google search yielded a simple rule for her to memorize.

According to Phonics on the Web, Y is a consonant whenever it is the first letter of a syllable (or word) with more than one letterY is a vowel when it appears anywhere else.

For example, Y is a consonant in the words yes, yogurt, yellow, and yurt. It’s a vowel in words like baby, sky, boy, and lyric.

Y is also a vowel in Tigery. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Y is also a vowel in Tigery. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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One Response to “When is Y not a vowel?”

  1. Pingback: “What’s a yurt?” | CATERPICKLES

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