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1.3: Vowels That Can Be Consonants- <y>, <w>, and <u>

  • Page ID
    3535
  • Overview of Vowels That Can Be Consonants

    The standard that <a>, <e>, <i>, <o>, <u> and sometimes <y> are vowels usually works.

    However, <w> can sometimes work with another vowel to make a vowel sound, and <u> can, on rare occasions, act as a consonant. Treating <u>, <w>, and <y> as letters that sometimes work as vowels and sometimes as consonants helps us make sense of spelling.

    Examples

    • In gym, someday, and puppy, <y> makes a vowel sound, but in you and beyond, <y> makes a consonant sound.
    • The letter <w> is only a vowel when it is found second in the two-letter teams <aw>, <ew>, and <ow>, as in draw, few, and low. Otherwise, it is a consonant, like in way, write and who.
    • The letter <u> is usually a vowel, but it acts as a consonant when comes after the letter <q>, as in unique, or when it spells the [w] sound. This happens when it comes right after the letter <q>, as in queen, and occasionally after the letter <g>, as in penguin.

    Review

    Listen to the sound the <y>, <w>, or <u> is spelling or helping to spell in these words. Then sort the words into the two groups below.

    below years went white type question
    write every study full earthquake saw
    women new yard would gull language
    what argue begun jaguar they around
    Words in which the <y>, <w>, or <u> is acting as...
    a consonant a vowel
    Show Answer

    A

    Words in which the <y>, <w>, or <u> is acting as...
    a consonant a vowel
    years every
    yard type
    white they
    what saw
    write below
    women new
    would study
    went full
    earthquake around
    question gull
    jaguar argue
    language begun

    Explore More

    In another concept, you can learn that when we add a suffix like -ing to a word that ends with a single consonant with a single vowel right in front of it, we must add a twin consonant letter: So if we start with the word hop and add -ing to it, we get the following:

    clipboard_e5b0e75bbbaa661e46783f4f95c6130e3.png

    which becomes

    clipboard_e34991395c494bd43f7ee8ddb609b4283.png

    Thus, we get hopping, with twin

    s.

    If <w> and <y> were always consonants, we would have to twin them when we add -ing to words like crow and toy, which would lead to the incorrect spellings <crowwing> and <toyying> rather than the correct crowing and toying. In such cases, <w> and <y> are vowels, so we do not twin them.

    And if <u> were always a vowel, words like quit and quiz would have two vowel letters in front of the <t> and <z> rather than just one, which means that when we added ing to them, we would not twin the <t> and <z>. That would give us the incorrect spellings <quiting> and <quizing> rather than the correct spellings quitting and quizzing. In such cases, <u> is a consonant and so we do twin the <t> and <z>.

    <y> As a Vowel or Consonant

    Just like we can use the same word in different ways, we can use the same letter in different ways. For example, the word blue sometimes means a color, and sometimes it means “sad.” Similarly, <y> is a letter that is sometimes used as a vowel and sometimes as a consonant.

    The letter <y> is a consonant when it spells the sound it spells in the word yes. When it spells any other sound, it is a vowel.

    Examples

    Listen to the sound the <y> is spelling or helping to spell in these words, then determine if it is acting as a vowel or a consonant.

    1. In yell, the <e> makes the vowel sound while the <y> makes the sound it spells in yes. So, <y> is acting as a consonant.

    2. In gym, the <y> makes an [i] or short <i> sound, so it is acting as the vowel.

    Review

    1. Listen to the sound the <y> is spelling or helping to spell in these words. Then sort the words into the two groups below:
      gym yard years every
      type you they why
      beyond someday puppy yellow
      Words in which the <y> is ...
      a consonant a vowel
    2. One letter that is sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant is _______.
    Show Answer
    1. Listen to the sound the <y> is spelling or helping to spell in these words. Then sort the words into the two groups below:
      gym yard years every
      type you they why
      beyond someday puppy yellow
      Words in which the <y> is ...
      a consonant a vowel
      beyond gym
      yard type
      you someday
      years they
      yellow puppy
      every
      why
    2. One letter that is sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant is <y>.

    <w> As a Vowel or Consonant

    The letter <y> is one example of a letter that sometimes acts as a vowel and sometimes as a consonant. The letter <w> is another letter that sometimes acts as a vowel and sometimes a consonant.

    The letter <w> is usually a consonant. It is a vowel only when it teams up with an <a>, <e>, or <o> to spell a single sound—as in the words draw, few, and low. So the letter <w> is a vowel only in the two-letter teams <aw>, <ew>, and <ow>.

    Everywhere else <w> is a consonant. It is a consonant when it spells the sound it does at the front of way, and it is a consonant when it teams up with <r> and <h>— as in write and who.

    Examples

    Listen to the sound the <w> is spelling or helping to spell in each of these words. Then determine if it is acting as a vowel or a consonant.

    1. In below, the <w> is working in the team <ow> and thus is acting as a vowel.
    2. In went, the <e> is making the vowel sound and the <w> is not working in an <aw>, <ew>, or <ow> team, so it is acting as a consonant.

    Review

    1. Listen to the sound the <w> is spelling or helping to spell in each of these words. Then sort the words into the two groups below:
      away what below went
      saw write would new
      yellow women few white
      Words in which the <w> is ...
      a vowel a consonant
    2. Each word in Column 1 below contains a <w> or a <y>. Sometimes the <w> or <y> is a consonant, sometimes a vowel. Spell each word in Column 1 backwards and you will get a new word. Write these new words in Column 2. Then put a check mark after each word that contains a <w> or <y> that is a vowel. We've given you a start:
      Column 1 Column 2
      was saw
      dray yard
      flow
      wets
      straw
      pay
      war
      yaws
      draw
      wonk
    Show Answer
    1. Listen to the sound the <w> is spelling or helping to spell in each of these words. Then sort the words into the two groups below:
      away what below went
      saw write would new
      yellow women few white
      Words in which the <w> is ...
      a vowel a consonant
      saw away
      yellow what
      below write
      few women
      new would
      went
      white
    2. Each word in Column 1 below contains a <w> or a <y>. Sometimes the <w> or <y> is a consonant, sometimes a vowel. Spell each word in Column 1 backwards and you will get a new word. Write these new words in Column 2. Then put a check mark after each word that contains a <w> or <y> that is a vowel. We've given you a start:
      Column 1 Column 2
      was saw √
      dray √ yard
      flow √ wolf
      wets stew √
      straw √ warts
      pay √ yaps
      war raw √
      yaws √ sway √
      draw √ ward
      wonk know √

    <u> As a Vowel or Consonant

    While the letter <u> is usually considered a vowel, there are a few cases where it doesn't act as a vowel in a word.

    • The letter <u> acts as a consonant when in comes right after the letter <q>, as in quit or mosquito.
    • The letter <u> is also a consonant anytime it spells the sound that is usually spelled with a <w>, the sound you hear at the beginning of will and won't. This happens with the letter <q> as in queen, and also in a few words, such as penguin, when it follows the letter <g>.

    Examples

    Look at the letter in front of the <u>. Based on this letter, determine if <u> is acting as a vowel or consonant.

    1. In queen, the <ee> makes the vowel sound and the <u> comes right after a <q>, so it acts as a consonant.
    2. In duck, the <u> doesn't come after <q> or <g> and it makes the short <u> or [u] sound, so it is acting as a vowel.

    Review

    1. Look carefully at the letter in front of the <u> in each of the following words and then sort the words into the two groups.
      queen quick shold study around
      unique you duck funny question
      quiet full blue earthquake squirrel
      Words in which the <u>
      comes right after the letter <q> does not come right after the letter <q>
    2. Fill in the blanks: The letter <u> is usually a _______, but it can be a consonant when it comes right after the letter ____.

    3. Here are seven words in which <u> comes right after <q>. In six of these words, the letter <u> spells the <w> sound. Write those six in the table.
      queen unique quiet quick
      earthquake question squirrel
    4. Listen carefully to the sound spelled by the <u> in each of the following words and then sort the words into the two groups based on whether <u> spells the <w> sound.

      language gum jaguar penguin
      gun begun gull argue
      Words in which the letter <u>
      spells the <w> sound does not spell the <w> sound
    Show Answer
    1. Look carefully at the letter in front of the <u> in each of the following words and then sort the words into the two groups.
      queen quick shold study around
      unique you duck funny question
      quiet full blue earthquake squirrel
      Words in which the <u>
      comes right after the letter <q> does not come right after the letter <q>
      queen earthquake you blue
      unique question full study
      quiet squirrel should funny
      quick duck around
    2. Fill in the blanks: The letter <u> is usually a vowel, but it is a consonant when it comes right after the letter <q>.

    3. Here are seven words in which <u> comes right after <q>. In six of these words, the letter <u> spells the <w> sound. Write those six in the table.
      queen unique quiet quick
      earthquake question squirrel
      queen quiet quick
      earthquake question squirrel
    4. Listen carefully to the sound spelled by the <u> in each of the following words and then sort the words into the two groups based on whether <u> spells the <w> sound.

      language gum jaguar penguin
      gun begun gull argue
      Words in which the letter <u>
      spells the <w> sound does not spell the <w> sound
      language gun gull
      jaguar gum argue
      penguin begun