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My Longman dictionary states that the comparative of 'shy' is 'shyer'. However, at least two online dictionaries also give the form 'shier' as being acceptable: The Free Dictionary and Merriam-Webster. On an English language forum I came across a reference to British (shyer) vs. American (shier) spelling. But an Ngram chart shows that even in American English 'shyer' is much more used.

My problem is that I've been told that it is definitely wrong, but if it's in dictionaries then... has there been a change to what is wrong?

P.S.: Google Ngram link

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  • How about books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – mplungjan
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 8:54
  • Also en.wiktionary.org/wiki/shyer has shier as alternative, whereas en.wiktionary.org/wiki/shier does not have shyer as alternative... British vs US spelling?
    – mplungjan
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 8:56
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    The most common American spelling is shyer as well; shier is a rarely used alternative. Commented May 7, 2014 at 10:52
  • See also this answer, which deals (in some detail) with the spelling variation of word-final -y/-ie when suffixes are added to the base word. Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:29
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    I've heard that "drier" is the comparative, and "dryer" the appliance, but I suspect many don't obseve this distinction. Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 0:24

3 Answers 3

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"shyer" or "shier"?

Both versions are acceptable in today's standard English.

In the 2002 CGEL page 1581:

Monosyllabic dry and shy are optionally exceptions to the y-replacement rule, allowing either y or i before the suffix: dry ~ dryer/drier ~ dryest/driest and shy ~ shyer/shier ~ shyest/shiest.

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

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  • I suppose these spelling alternatives (for derived forms) differ from say artefact/artifact, whch hardly seems to fall under 'grammar'. Commented May 4, 2023 at 15:07
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Both are acceptable in the U.S., however "shier" is the preferred spelling in American English and "shyer" is the proper spelling in the Queen's English.

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  • @F.E.: Thanks for explaining CGEL. I have seen a reference to it many times, and wondered what it is. Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 0:34
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    If you actually look at usage, there is virtually no difference between the U.K. and the U.S. for these. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 13:51
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Dictionaries do indeed allow both spellings shier and shyer. However, the spellings are not pleasant to the eye. I tend to avoid them by substituting another adjective, such as bashful.

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