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Yay! It’s Yeah and Yea!

on September 29, 2011 in Grammar & ESL
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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!

Thanks for sharing!
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7 Comments

  1. Kathi September 29, 2011 Reply

    It’s funny that you addressed this because this has been one of my growing pet peeves over the last few months.

    Except, my beef is with the “word” yay. I use yeah and yea a lot, but I use yea to mean “Yes!” As in, “Yea! I got paid today!” (Yes! I got paid today!)

    Yeah is my sarcastic, “yeah, but” kind of word. As in, “Yeah, so I didn’t get paid today after all.” (Yes, so, the guy’s a jerk for saying I was going to get paid and he didn’t come through.”)

    Yay drives me nuts, because it’s not yes. It’s a sound.

    The way you put it though, I might reconsider my usage. I still don’t like yay, but it does make some sense that yea is more formal than yay, which I’m not striving for when I use these words.

  2. Jon Stow September 30, 2011 Reply

    This is an American thing. One might just use archaic “yea” in print in the UK but otherwise I would only need to know the difference between the three when watching a US TV program. People do say “yeah” in the UK but with possibly different pronunciation and in Kathi’s context

  3. Scott September 30, 2011 Reply

    Language changes. These are used interchangeably now (the first two, at least.) Silly thing to get upset about.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 2, 2011 Reply

      I’ve never seen them used interchangeably (and intentionally) from anyone who knows better. They’re different words. The fact that some people use one incorrectly doesn’t mean they’re now the same. Also, it’s less that she’s upset and more that I hire her to cover issues like this for writers who are new and don’t know any better. We get plenty of ESL folks here looking to improve their English writing skills, and these little grammatical mistakes are some of the things that stand out when a prospect reviews those writers’ samples.

  4. And what about ‘ya’. That’s also a more colloquial substitute for yes, right? Thanks for helping me to sort out my affirmatives! Next post – nah, nope, nay, neigh….

    • Jennifer Mattern October 3, 2011 Reply

      Rebecca might have other thoughts, but personally I’ve only seen “ya” used as slang for “you.”

  5. english corrector November 2, 2011 Reply

    Yay! You know, for a non-native English speaker, these things are quite useful, because they are often used out of context.

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