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


3 Answers 3


"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).

  • I suppose these spelling alternatives (for derived forms) differ from say artefact/artifact, whch hardly seems to fall under 'grammar'. May 4 at 15:07

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.

  • @F.E.: Thanks for explaining CGEL. I have seen a reference to it many times, and wondered what it is. Jan 25, 2015 at 0:34
  • 2
    If you actually look at usage, there is virtually no difference between the U.K. and the U.S. for these. Jan 1, 2016 at 13:51

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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