Writing for Business

Jul 9 2009   11:16AM GMT

Acronyms and articles; Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

typing Which is correct?
The GRUB bootloader can run from ________.
a. a USB drive.
b. an USB drive.

Answer: a

Explanation: Because the U is pronounced yoo, we treat it as if it is a Y and — in this case — a consonant.

Rule: When Y is the first letter in a syllable of more than one letter, it’s a consonant.

I like the straightforward way Phonics on the Web explains this rule. I hate to admit I’m shocked about the lack of understanding of English rules online. I hate to admit that because it makes me sound like a fuddy-duddy. (As does, of course, using the word fuddy-duddy. Nope, there’s no help for me.)

But here goes — I’m SHOCKED by the misinformation online about whether Y is a vowel or a consonant. AskOxford.com helpfully responds that Yes, Y is a vowel or a consonant.

Otherwise, there are silly claims like “If it sounds like a vowel, it’s a vowel.” Listen — the letter Y always sounds like a vowel if it makes any sound at all. Short i in rhythm, long i in style. Long e at the start of yes. Yes. (Say it: ee-ess = yes.)

Or the claims, as in the comments to the thread above, that Y is always a consonant.

Was no one else taught that “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y” are the vowels? Yes, I’m yelling. Yelling (pronounced E-elling) about the letter Y.

The other issue here is articles and acronyms and initialisms (No, they’re not the same thing — don’t get me started.) Use a if the whole thing is pronounced as if it starts with a consonant and an if the whole thing sounds as if it starts with a vowel. That’s the rule.

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2  Comments on this Post

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  • Cchap
    [B]Ouch![/B] Once again, I am humbled. If I bet on my answers, I'd be flat broke by now.
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  • Jaeo
    Well, I'm not so sure they teach this stuff in school any more. Being an editor "of a certain age" has its advantages. Sorry I yelled!
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