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Y as Vowel: Teaching the Sounds & FREE Worksheets

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Learn all about the letter Y as a vowel, the sounds of Y, and following the research to best teach letter Y. Get two free worksheets for students to practice the most common vowel sounds of Y!

Graphic showing "Sounds of Letter Y" with two Y vowel sound worksheets on a pink background.
⭐ Scroll to the bottom of this post to download the FREE printables! ⭐

All About the Letter Y

The letter Y is a unique letter. That’s because it can be both a vowel AND a consonant!

We usually associate the letter Y with the consonant sound /y/ that we hear in the word yam.

👉 Y represents the consonant sound only at the beginning of words or syllables.

It is important to teach this rule when introducing the letter Y to pre-k and kindergarten students, because children will encounter the consonant sound at the beginning of many common high-frequency words like you, yes, and yellow.

Letter Y is also a vowel. You’ve probably heard the saying that vowels are, “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. But did you know this is NOT accurate? The saying should be, “A, E, I, O, U, and most of the time Y!”

👉 The letter Y represents a vowel sound WAY more often than it represents a consonant sound. The vowel Y represents a vowel sound in 1,000+ words, and it’s only a consonant in 57 words.

That’s why it’s so important to explicitly teach the sounds of letter Y as a vowel!

Graphic entitled "The sound of the letter Y" with the four sounds, rules, and examples.

Sounds of Y as a Vowel

There are three basic vowel sounds of the letter Y:

  1. Long I
  2. Long E
  3. Short I

Each vowel sound has certain characteristics which influence the sound.

Y as Long I

Rule: Y represents the Long I sound when it is the only vowel letter in the base word AND at the very end of the word or syllable. It usually is found in one-syllable words, but not always!

Example words include: my, shy, cry, apply, defy, python

Y also represents the /ī/ sound when a final silent e comes after it. Example words include rye, bye, and tye. For more on this, visit our post on the many jobs of silent E.

When Y represents the /ī/ sound in the middle of a word in an open syllable, it usually indicates the word is of Greek origin. Words like cycle, style, tyrant, and hyphen are examples.

Y as Long E

Rule: Y represents the Long E sound when it is a suffix -y or -ly at the very end of a word.

Since it is a suffix, that means it must attach to a base word. Because of this, words with Y spelling long E will always be more than one syllable!

Example words include: baby, happy, fluffy, elderly, nobody.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if the Y is a suffix or not, so it’s best to consult a dictionary.

The Long I and Long E sounds are the most common sound of Y. So they should be explicitly taught to early elementary students, starting in first grade.

Y as Short I

Rule: The short I sound of the letter Y is found within a closed syllable.

Example words include: rhythm, gym, mystery, cyst.

This vowel sound is more advanced and usually isn’t explicitly taught until after 2nd grade.

When Y represents the /ĭ/ sound, it indicates the word is of Greek origin. This is a super interesting teaching point when teaching morphology and eytmology to your students!

Teaching Tips

Because the letter Y represents so many sounds, it can be a bit tricky. So learning to read, spell, and pronounce words with Y requires some focused practice.

Graphic showing the memory hook "Cry Baby" to remember the pronunciation for long vowel Y.

👶🏽You can teach the generalizations for pronouncing the Letter Y by teaching the memory hook: “Cry Baby.”

This simple memory hook serves as a mnemonic device. Using mnemonics is effective with students who have learning difficulties like dyslexia, and those who are at risk for educational failure (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998).

“Cry Baby” helps kids remember that many one-syllable words will end with a long I sound, like cry, and most 2+ syllable words will end with the long E sound, like baby.

But just as with many other “rules” (more accurately called ‘generalizations’), this isn’t always the case. So it’s important to teach kids to be flexible. When reading, kids can try one sound, and if it doesn’t work, try the sound!

References: Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1998). Enhancing School Success with Mnemonic Strategies. Intervention in School and Clinic33(4), 201-208. https://doi.org/10.1177/105345129803300402

The printed Y as a vowel practice sheet and recording sheet on a blue background.

📝 FREE Practice Worksheets

These worksheets provide kids with multi-sensory practice, and they should be used after both long vowel sounds for the Letter Y have been introduced – long E and long I.

These worksheets are intended to help students differentiate the /ē/ and /ī/ sounds by attending to the patterns they see in the words.

We love this resource because it helps kids practice so many essential skills – decoding, encoding, fluency, and composing.

To Use:

Both worksheets should be used together. Kids will cut out the Y and Y stamps at the bottom of the page and glue them to popsicle sticks or straws.

Then, they look at the word to determine whether the Y represents the /ē/ or /ī/ sound, choosing the popsicle stick that matches the sound.

For accountability, kids will record the words in the appropriate column on the recording sheet. After each word has been recorded, they will read the lists 3 times, making sure they hear the correct sound for the letter Y.

Kids are then challenged to choose one word from each list and write a complete sentence using capitalization, punctuation, spacing, and spelling!

Recommended Resources

Download & Print

DOWNLOAD TERMS: All of our resources and printables are designed for personal use only in homes and classrooms. Each teacher must download his or her own copy. To share with others, please use the social share links provided or distribute the link to the blog post so others can download their own copies. Please do not save our files to a shared drive, reproduce our resources on the web, or make photocopies for anyone besides your own students. Your support in this allows us to keep making free resources for everyone! Please see our Creative Credits page for information about the licensed clipart we use. If you have any questions or concerns regarding our terms, please email us. Thank you!

Y as a Vowel Practice Worksheet

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Y as a Vowel Recording Sheet

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We’d love to hear about how you’re using this resource with your students. Please leave a comment below or tag us on Instagram @literacylearn!

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