Spelling - Changing 'y' to 'i'

Goals

To learn and practise the spelling rules associated with base words ending in 'y' when endings (suffixes) are added.

Lesson plan

The lesson is divided into a series of activities where students group words according to whether they keep the final 'y' of the base word when a suffix is added, or change 'y' to 'i'. For each set of examples, students are asked to identify and make predictions about the patterns for this area of spelling.

Introduction

The letter y is very often used at the end of a word instead of i, e.g.:

Let’s see what happens when we add an ending (suffix) to a base word like these:

Now the y is no longer at the end and so it is changed to an i.

However, sometimes the y does not change to i. We find examples like tidying and joyful.

When to change and when not to change? In this resource we will explore the patterns behind these spelling differences.

Activity 1

Ask students to look at the set of examples on the slide and sort them into two different groups:

Then, after they have sorted the examples into two groups, ask them if they can see a pattern. When do we change y to i and when do we keep the y? A clue is to look at the first letter of the suffixes (endings).

For advanced students, explore why we might want to keep the y before a suffix starting with i.

Activity 2 Advanced

Look at the next group of examples. None of them involve a suffix starting with i, so we don't need to worry about that exception here. But do they all change y to i?

Ask students to sort them into two groups, as in the previous activity, and find out.

Then, after they have sorted the examples into two groups, ask them if they can see a pattern.

Next, explore some exceptions to this rule.

Activity 3 Advanced

Tell students that we need to look at the special pattern before the -s ending. This ending is used with nouns to form plurals, e.g.:

We also find -s as a verb ending:

As you can see, before -s the y changes to ie instead of just i. This avoids misleading spellings like terrifis, or cris instead of cries, which would imply the wrong pronunciations.

Ask students to test if this works as a general pattern, and whether we find the same exception that we found before (for the y to i rule), for items where there is a vowel letter before the final y (like boy). To test this, ask students to sort the next set of examples into two groups, CHANGE 'Y' TO 'IE' and KEEP 'Y'.

Extra

Finally, explore the following examples which keep the y:

Here there is no vowel letter before the y. What is going on?

Summary

We can now sum up what we have found overall, adding the findings for -s endings to our earlier results.

This accounts for numerous examples. However, there are as usual some exceptions to the general pattern! These examples break the pattern by keeping the y:

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Spelling - Changing 'y' to 'i': Activity 1

Sort the examples into two groups

CHANGE 'Y' to 'I'
KEEP 'Y'
tiny + -est → tiniest
memory + -al → memorial
beauty + -ful → beautiful
baby + -ish → babyish
weary + -ness → weariness
try + -ing → trying
apply + -ing → applying
try + -ed → tried
apply + -ance → appliance
silly + -ish → sillyish

Answers

When do we change y to i and when do we keep it?

Did you notice that there are some examples where the same base word behaves differently with different suffixes?

Can you think of a reason to keep the y before a suffix starting with i?

In general, double i is avoided in English. There are just a few exceptions, such as skiing. (That is not an exception to our rule about y, however, because the base word ends in i: ski + -ing → skiing.)

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Spelling - Changing 'y' to 'i': Activity 2 Advanced

Sort the examples into two groups

CHANGE 'Y' to 'I'
KEEP 'Y'
merry + -ment → merriment
envy + -able → enviable
obey + -ed → obeyed
deny + -al → denial
annoy + -ance → annoyance
betray + -al → betrayal
rely + -ed → relied
enjoy + -ment → enjoyment
defy + -ance → defiance
employ + -able → employable

Answers

When do we change y to i and when do we keep it?

Did you notice that there are some examples where the same ending behaves differently with different base words?

There are numerous examples which obey the ‘keep y after a vowel letter’ part of this rule: stayed, annoyed, prayed ...

However, there are some exceptions to the rule: day → daily, gay → gaily, pay → paid, lay → laid, say → said

(Note that these are short words. The last three are also irregular because they don't end in -ed, so we just have to know the individual spellings.)

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Spelling - Changing 'y' to 'i': Activity 3 Advanced

Sort the examples into two groups: pattern before '-s'

CHANGE 'Y' to 'IE'
KEEP 'Y'
boys
memories
envies
obeys
denies
annoys
betrays
relies
enjoys
monkeys
flies
hurries
babies
accompanies
tries
turkeys
chimneys
days
plays

Answers

These words show plural -s added to a noun or present tense -s added to a verb. When do we change y to ie and when do we keep it?

Do we find the same exception as we found before (for the y to i rule), for items where there is a vowel letter before the final y (like boy)?

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