Similar to how a vowel is not a consonant just because it is a vowel, a letter is not a consonant just because it is not a vowel. So is “W” a “vowel” then? Read on to find out!
Similar to how a vowel is not a consonant just because it is a vowel, a letter is not a consonant just because it is not a vowel. So is “W” a “Vowel” then? Read on to find out!
Given the numerous hypotheses and discussions about what exactly qualifies as a vowel, it would be conceivable to create a book-length thesis on this one subject alone.
When it comes to language, there is so much more nerdery to be experienced, and frequently, learning another language is where the depths of comprehension and intrigue may emerge.
You might occasionally ponder the possibility of W ever being a vowel. You might find this question confusing at first, but it turns out that grammar manuals from the 19th century and earlier did occasionally list W as a vowel.
Today we’re going to learn not just when Y, and possibly even W, can be a vowel. We’re not sure why grammar writers stopped doing it, or when the “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y” that many of us learned in school became conventional.
What is a “Vowel?”
The way a sound is made in the mouth is the simplest method to define what distinguishes a letter as a vowel. Vowels are produced with the least degree of the throat and vocal cord constriction.
The vowel in English refers to both the letter and the sound, but vocalis in Latin originally referred to the voice (oh, hey, that explains why some of us love a dead language so much).
The phonetic definition is regarded as this one.
But “vowel” isn’t that easy. It concerns both the constriction of sound and the syllabic sound; in other words, a vowel is the highest sound in a syllable, especially in spoken languages.
The “sometimes y” and, yes, the “sometimes w” complicate what we consider conventional vowels (a, e, I o, and u) in this second description, which is known as the phonological definition.
A vowel’s phonological definition and phonetic definition are not necessarily the same.
Is “W” really a Vowel?
No, and yes!
The complexity of the question and the answer hinges on how you define vowels in the first place. No, “w” is probably not a vowel if it’s a letter (although its “sometimes” vowel buddy “y” definitely gets to be a vowel in written language in words like “gym” or “hymn”).
The simple answer is that A, E, I, O, and U, along with all the other letters of the alphabet, represent the vowels and consonants that we actually make when we speak.
Although it may seem like a minor distinction, it might get complicated if you’re not sure whether you’re discussing orthography or phonetics.
For instance, we frequently consider the letter U to be a vowel. Numerous speakers have, as a result, unnecessarily second-guessed themselves by debating whether to write “a university” or “an university,” or “a unicorn” or “an unicorn.”
However, when vowels are categorized according to their articulation and oral anatomy, the letter “w” is not at all unusual; in fact, the letter “w” is a vowel in the word vowel.
Other letters that do this include “r,” which sounds like “butter,” “l,” which sounds like “bottle,” as well as “m” and “n,” which sound like “bottom” and “button,” respectively.
When the adjacent sound slides neatly with them, like a thong, those become vowels.
Similar to how a vowel is not a consonant just because it is a vowel, a letter is not a consonant just because it is not a vowel.
We might be able to argue that way on paper, but even though our language is largely visual, a big part of what makes language so rich is its oral past.
Just as English speakers have a range of dialects, accents, and quirks (do you want to be “woken up” at a hotel in Chicago or “knocked up” in London?), so do the sounds that make up that language.
When Y and W Are in the Middle of a Syllable
In the middle of a syllable, what about it? Y stands for a vowel, notably the short I sound, in terms like “rhythm.” However, it makes no sense to claim that Y stands in for a vowel in a term like “Reynold.” E-Y, a two-letter combination, stands in for a vowel.
At least in native English words, the letter W never appears in the middle of a syllable. A type of valley is described by the Welsh word “cwm,” which was borrowed and is written C-W-M.
However, we’re only adding it here because if we don’t, a commenter will. Yes, the letter W serves as a vowel in this word.
We personally believe that this term is so uncommon that it is best to disregard it, but if Scrabble accepts it, who are we to complain?
So what are the instances where “W” can be used as a vowel?
When Syllables Begin with Y or W
Let’s address the genuine issue now that I’ve provided the straightforward response: When do W and, for that matter, Y signifies vowels?
If the first letter of a syllable is Y or W and the next letter is a vowel, then Y or W almost definitely stands for a consonant. Y and W, for instance, stand in for consonants in the words “yo” and “woe.”
When a syllable starts with the letter Y and the following letter is a consonant, the letter Y stands for a vowel.
The only examples that come to mind are the names Yves and the elements yttrium and ytterbium.
There are a few other borrowed or old-fashioned terms with the letter Y standing in for a vowel at the beginning of the word, according to the dictionary, but they aren’t important enough to list here.
Additionally, there are no syllables that start with W in which W functions as a vowel.
When Y and W are at the End of a Syllable
Let’s finish by discussing Y and W at the end of a syllable. The vowel widely known as the long I is represented by the letter Y in one-syllable words like “by” and “fly.”
A side note: A lengthy “I” really consist of two vowels together. If you pronounce it slowly enough, you may hear the sound of “ah” followed by “ee.”
The phonetic name for two vowels that are run together in this fashion is called a diphthong; it has been used as an insult by those who don’t know any better since it sounds insulting.
At the end of a syllable, return to Y: It stands in for the vowel of a long E (or, again, a short I depending on the speaker) in longer words like “sorry” and “friendly.”
Words like “hello” or “day” cause issues for us. One could argue that Y stands in for a vowel since, without it, we would pronounce the words with various vowels.
We would say “he” for “hey” and “da” for “day” respectively. But using that logic, you could also claim that the vowels G and H in the word “fight” are also vowels, as the word would be “fit” without them. There is craziness that way.
The Y at the endings of phrases like “boy” is a concern. Another diphthong, “oy,” is made up of an O-like vowel followed by a long E or short I.
You may, therefore, say that Y stands for one of those vowels. On the other hand, you might think that Y sounds like a consonant because the diphthong “oy” finishes with the sound “yuh.”
Even phoneticians disagree on this, therefore we advise sticking with the simple explanation that the letter combination O-Y stands for the diphthong “oy.”
W is frequently a component of yet another diphthong when it appears at the end of a syllable or close to it. Words with two vowels that run together at the end include “cow” and “brown.” “Oo” comes after “aa” or “ah,” which sound like the letter “cat.”
You may claim that W does, in fact, represent a vowel in these terms. However, you might think the word “cow” ends in the consonant “wuh” rather than the vowel “oo.”
Similar to the diphthong “oy,” phoneticians have differing opinions. So, as with the O-Y and the diphthong “oy,” our advice is to just state that the combination O-W stands in for the diphthong “ow” and finishes there.
W can also be found after words like “saw” and “drawn.” These words terminate in the vowels “aw” and “oo,” not with diphthongs.
By applying the same logic we’ve already used, it’s better to avoid designating W as either a vowel or a consonant and instead just state that the letter combinations A-W stand for the vowel “aw” and E-W stand for “oo.”
In conclusion, the only instances where W can actually be said to indicate a vowel are in those uncommon Welsh borrowings like “cwm.”
However, Y gets to act as a vowel in a lot more words. It stands for either a short I or a long E in phrases like “happy” and words like “gym.” In terms like “by,” it stands in for a diphthong.
In order to express vowels or consonants, numerous letters or letter combinations are used; nevertheless, letters in and of themselves are neither vowels nor consonants.
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