Yay! It’s Yeah and Yea!

on September 29, 2011 in Writing & Editing

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, 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.


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! 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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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.


  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.”

    • lisa March 12, 2015 Reply

      I am from Louisiana and we use ya for you. Examples:
      I love ya!
      See ya later
      Do ya wanna go with me?
      Maybe incorrect grammar but has always been accepted down here in the bayou’s!!!

  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.

  6. tom April 3, 2015 Reply

    Perhaps to avoid confusion one might use “yesss!” in print to enthusiastically affirm the point or event.
    At least it is less ambiguous than the other versions of “yes,” though I am not fond of its verbal use.

  7. Bud Hines April 10, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for this valuable explanation. I frequently say Yay but am not sure which spelling to use.Now I know. Thanks

  8. Mesha May 26, 2015 Reply

    Good Morning,
    I wanted to know if you could give me a few recommendation on increasing my vocabulary, better grammar usage and tips to read more.

  9. King May 28, 2015 Reply

    All correct except that “yeah” is not limited to contemporary teen slang, sarcastic in tone, and pronounced “yah-uh.” Appropriate use as an informal expression of agreement, pronounced “yeh,” has long been common and acceptable. I often use it in that way, as in “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”

    • Jennifer Mattern May 28, 2015 Reply

      That’s why she mentioned that it’s slang for “yes.” 🙂 The mention of teenagers was in reference to the previous example she gave. It’s how the word can come across, and did, in the subject line of the email she received. The explanation of the pronunciation is spot-on either way. She was simply trying to show how it differs from the pronunciation of the other terms here. We just don’t think about it because we tend to say the word quickly, where the “uh” portion isn’t always obvious.

  10. Michael June 10, 2015 Reply

    You have forgotten to mention the adverb use of “yay” when indicating size, as in “My pile of unfinished grammar homework is yay high.”

  11. Nola West July 21, 2015 Reply

    Yay!!!! Someone who knows what they’re saying!

    I use the word (expression) “yeah” for: “Yeah!” For like saying or agreeing, “That’s right!”, with real enthusiasm.

    Is this right? And, are my commas in the correct places for that last sentence (above⤴)?

    Thank you for your help!
    Where would we be without real-life “Teachers”!
    ~ Peace, Nola

  12. Jeff August 16, 2015 Reply

    As King said above, I use “yeah” (which I would pronounce y – short ‘a’ as in “yap”) as a positive exclamation, as in “Oh Yeah!” ( Saying “Oh Yay-uh” just sounds too affected to me.) But by itself “yeah” doesn’t carry the same positive meaning. I tend to agree with Microsoft word that “Yay” isn’t a word but, as the article indicates, it might be the best to use as a positive exclamation by itself, without the “Oh.”

    I would not use any of these in standard writing, but I found this article interesting because I was trying to find the best word to use on Facebook!

  13. Mary Beth Good January 18, 2016 Reply

    I have used”yeah” for about 40 yrs to meant hooray or e-ya (sound) for yeah. Also thought everyone I was communicating with was understanding and pronouncing the same as me. Now I Ferrell the needed to ask some on my friends about this trivial but interesting issue. Yah seems like another possibility for spelling and pronunciation. Comments?

  14. Tricia February 25, 2016 Reply

    Thanks! I’ve been a writer for years but never knew the correct spelling for “yay” until now. As for who wants to know such an insignificant fact, well, I do!

    • Tricia April 18, 2016 Reply

      Back to the topic of Yay being celebratory and yea meaning yes: I was a cheerleader in the early 70’s and all the typed cheers that were handed out at camp used “yea” for things like “Yea! Cowboys!” etc. Looked in a 1970 edition of dictionary and there is no word “yay” listed. Both yea and yeah meant “yes” or an affirmation of something. As for using both of them as a celebratory remark, it makes sense. Don’t we sometimes cheer “YES” and simultaneously do a fist pump?

  15. Ian April 19, 2016 Reply

    This was very helpful! I’m a manager and I text my employees a lot. I was very confused with all of this. I’ll look a lot more competent now!

  16. Some Guy May 9, 2016 Reply

    Yay is just someone trying to phonetically spell Yea – they’re the same word. It means “Yes”.

  17. Bevy July 17, 2016 Reply

    How about Yah! I use interchangeably Ya, Yeah, Yea! I have never used Yay – that just doesn’t even look like a word.
    But I still use a comma in my sentences before because … which I heard is wrong now.

    • Jennifer Mattern July 18, 2016 Reply

      “Ya” is slang for “you,” which is very different than these words. I’ve never seen anyone use “yah” before. To me that looks like a short-hand version or typo of “yeah.”

  18. Garry L Cox August 10, 2016 Reply

    Thank you for being head and shoulder above all the other grammar rags out there. You understood the question and answered it clearly and with good example.

  19. Erik August 18, 2016 Reply

    Yay! I used the correct spelling. Considering this was one of my first words and that my mom was an english teacher, i’m doing pretty good today. By the way there is so much wrong phrasing and punctuation in online news sites, even establishment news sites, do articles go past editors these days?

    Long live English Teachers!

  20. Bridget August 22, 2016 Reply

    Thank you for the correct spelling and meaning. I always hesitate before writing yay because I’m never quite sure. Yay now I know. When I get texts, emails, etc. it seems that a lot of ‘peeps’ say yeah when expressing excitement. I appreciate using proper English. It’s obvious that you are an English teacher because you explained it perfectly:)

  21. Jim M. September 28, 2016 Reply

    I’ve been using “Yeah” as in “yes, I agree”. Like this “Yeah, I can’t wait either.” And then “Yeah?” as in “realy?”. Like this “Yeah, she was fired yesterday?”. After reading these comments, now I’m not sure. I hope that it wasn’t coming across as “Yay, she was fired…” :O

    • Jennifer Mattern September 30, 2016 Reply

      I can see either of those being OK Jim. In the second example you gave, it’s still basically saying “yes?” It’s a sort of yes/no confirmation, but saying “yes” would seem oddly formal which might be why “yeah” seems a more natural fit.

  22. Amjoʔvu October 23, 2016 Reply

    I am trying to translate the Book of Mormon into my main constructed language. It says “yea” a lot, and I was confounded on it’s meaning. Thanks for the help!

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