This is driving me crazy. I just got an email with the subject, “Yeah a Birthday Baby is Born”. I’m not sure the sender (who is not known for her grammatical prowess) meant to sound as sarcastic as the teenagers we teach, but to someone who knows the difference between “yeah”, “yea” and “yay”, she did.

And just what is the difference? If you don’t know, you’re certainly not alone. Even Spell Check doesn’t know the difference. It’s a trivial thing, and most people don’t care. But I do.

Let’s review:

“Yeah”

Yeah, it’s, like, teenager talk. “Yeah” is pronounced yah-uh. This is not a celebration word. This isn’t something you’d say when a friend has a new grandbaby born on her birthday (as the email I received told me). It’s slang. It means “yes” or “whatever.” Sometimes we even use it with "so" to make it even more casual (or obnoxious), “Yeah, so, I was bored.” Big freakin’ deal.

“Yea”

Hey, everyone, let’s vote. Do you vote yea or nay? “Yea” sounds like may, hay or even yay (which we’ll get to in a minute), but it means an old-fashioned “yes.” It is the oldest of the collection and was the root of all versions of yes words today. “Yeah”, which means yes, definitely derived from “yea”, which also means a more formal yes, but then so did an exclamation of excitement that is almost never used correctly.

“Yay”

Yay! We’re finally using “yay” correctly! Ironically as I type this, Microsoft Word is trying to correct me. It doesn’t think that “yay” is a word. Apparently I should use “yap” instead, but I won’t. I think we all know Word isn’t right all the time. If you’re excited, “yay” is the word to correctly use according to what we consider “proper” English. “Yea” gives you a vote and “yeah” is just agreeing – only “Yay!” can really convey true enthusiasm.

My challenge to you: Pay attention to just how often these words are mixed up, flipped around and blatantly misused. At the same time, you might try to avoid misusing them yourself.

Yay! Yeah and yea are finally sorted out!

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.