How did English end up with the adjective fiery (instead of *firy) from fire, but miry from mire and wiry from wire?

Are there any other words where the noun is -ire and the adjective is -iery?

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    For the record, most questions like this have no good answer – they're “just because.” It just happens that this one has a reasonable (and interesting) explanation. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 3:40
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    You're apparently under the mistaken impression that English spelling means something. Alas, it's pretty random, and the kind of change you mention is just more chaos. Sounds change, and occasionally spelling changes, too; but mostly not. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 3:48
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    Haven't you heard? English is a creole formalized into a blob we dare call a language. English is pidgin French, German and Latin, with some pretentious Greek thrown in - which we proudly speak, which infuriates and confuses native speakers of more well organized languages. Especially many speakers of French weary and wary of guarding against our viral infection of their language. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 6:41

2 Answers 2


The Online Etymology Dictionary explains the unusual spelling:

late 13c., from Middle English fier “fire” (see fire (n.)) + -y (2). The spelling is a relic of one of the attempts to render Old English “y” in fyr in a changing system of vowel sounds.

Words like miry (late 14c.) and wiry (1580s) have later origins and different etymology, so they don’t have the same influence on their spelling.

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    You and your tricky usage of the Online Etymology Dictionary! Nice answer and +1.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 3:13
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    It‘s one of my favorite references for ELU questions. Highly recommend it. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 3:19
  • Yeah, I'm going to have to start using it.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 3:19
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    Crucially, as you indirectly allude to, the base word wire never had the vowel /y/, so there was no potential difficulty in representing the vowel graphemically. While mire does originally have an /y/ in the Norse source language, it wasn't borrowed until this sound had been lost in English, so from a purely English point of view, mire never had an /y/, either. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 8:37

Fiery seems to be a modern Eng. corruption of the Old English word 'fier',fyr or fyrr an adverb meaning, [farther] or as a noun for the number [four vide feower]. The 'Y' added is a suffix from French donoting nouns or adjectives. Fie by itself is an older exclamation denoting contempt or dislike. -ry is a suffix written sometimes after vowels or diphthongs, representing Old French forms in -rie, and -erie. Sources: Webster's 1828 Dictionary; Shorter OED, vol 2,n-z 1934; Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon dictionary 1898 and A Concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary by John R. Clark Hall, 1916

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