“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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