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This question raised when a colleague told me that the correct way of writing bully + -ing is bullying, rather than bulling.

Initially I thought that the -y- should be kept only when the verb ended with in consonant-vowel-consonant. My assumption was based on the verbs enjoy and say whose present-participle forms are enjoying and saying.

However, some time later I realized there were other verbs, not ending in consonant-vowel-consonant, that kept the -y-, such as studying, applying, crying and trying...

Currently, I imagine there is no such grammar rule and I mixed the plural rules with verb rules. Nevertheless I'd like to get a confirmation. Can anyone help me clarify (another example: clarifying) that?

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Have you found any verb which drops the y in the infinitive? If not, presumably there is no such rule. – TimLymington Jul 8 '13 at 22:57
No, I haven't. However, as I'm not a native english speaker, I'd like to confirm that with the experts ;-) – Carlos Loth Jul 8 '13 at 23:05
So what made you think that " the y should be kept only when the verb ended with cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant)"? I know you said your "assumption was based on enjoy and say", but what made you think that they were an exception? – TrevorD Jul 8 '13 at 23:17
I've mentioned that on the question... "I think mixed the plural rules with verb rules", in the plural there are a CVC rule, there aren't? – Carlos Loth Jul 9 '13 at 0:24
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's not a matter of spelling; it's a matter of pronunciation.

(1) If the infinitive of the verb ends in /-i/ after a consonant, like

bully, caddy, worry, baby, lobby, remedy, ready, tidy, atrophy, jimmy, shinny, pony, copy, cosy

then the -ing form of the verb ends in /-iyɪŋ/. And is spelled -ying to remind one of that.

(2) if the infinitive of the verb ends in /-ay/ after a consonant, like

spy, descry, reply

then the -ing form of the verb ends in /-ayɪŋ/. And is spelled -ying to remind one of that.

Isn't English spelling fun?

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John. I'm confused by your answer. I don't understand pronunciation symbols, so I'm leaving those aside. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that both your groups (1) & (2) form the -ing form (spelling-wise) by simply adding -ing to the infinitive already ending in -y. How then can the same ending -ying remind one of two different pronunciations? – TrevorD Jul 9 '13 at 11:14
@TrevorD: > "How then can the same ending -ying remind one of two different pronunciations?" You seem to be laboring under the false assumption that English spelling has a consistent relation with English pronunciation. It doesn't; it's just there to remind you of things, like Chinese characters. These are two of them, that's all. (You can't discuss English phonetics in print, btw, without resorting at least to phonemic representation; here's all you need for English on two pages.) – John Lawler Jul 9 '13 at 15:37
John, We may be at cross-purposes. I know full well that spelling and pronunciation bear little relationship to one another - but that was my point. You seemed to be saying that, in one case, the spelling reminds one of one particular pronunciation, whereas in the other case the same spelling reminds one of a different pronunciation. That's what confused me. Or were you just being 'sarcastic' (not quite the right word, but I can't think of another)? Thanks for the link. – TrevorD Jul 9 '13 at 15:52
No, I was merely pointing out that if the Y at the end of cry reminds you of the /ay/ pronunciation, then it will do so also in the present participle form crying; and ditto for the Y at the end of hurry reminding you of /i/, in the infinitive and in the -ing form. It's no more consistent than the Water Radical or the Fire Radical in Chinese, but like them it's helpful as a memory cue. – John Lawler Jul 9 '13 at 16:00
John, you should probably warn people that you are not using IPA: you write /y/ for /j/. Makes one wonder how you write /y/. – tchrist Jul 9 '13 at 17:12

I can't think of any circumstance where you would remove the y when using the present participle tense (adding "ing"). I looked up a list of verbs ending in "y" and couldn't find a single one that I'd change. http://verbs1.com/end-y/

There is variation when using past tense, i.e. bully -> bullied; enjoy -> enjoyed.

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There [is] variation? Also, the "Y" is not changed to "I" in the word "enjoy" in the past tense ("enjoyed"). Other words that do drop the "Y" include sully (sullied), putty (puttied), party (partied), sally (sallied), and many more. – rhetorician Jul 8 '13 at 23:36
Only with the past tense suffix, though, which has an initial -e. The present participle form has an initial - i, and double I's are not good spelling in English, so the Y is retained for contrast there. – John Lawler Jul 9 '13 at 15:45
@user47430 I think this answer doesn't meet op's question. – haha Dec 10 '15 at 20:45

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