A hallmark of Early Modern English is that it exhibits a lot of variance between the use of final -y and -ie. In the 16th century -ie is even found in Old English words, eg stonie. And Mulcaster in his Elementarie of 1582 effectively recommends the dominant use of -ie when he relegates final -y only to "sharp and loud" final vowels (eg, deny but prettie). Why did -ie become so widely used in the 16th century? Are there phonological reasons to select -ie over -y? Is it due to contemporary French practices? I assume it's a complex mix of causes - if so, is there a study into the "rise and fall" of -ie?


2 Answers 2


Phonetically they are identical nowadays, but they probably were pronounced differently in the past. I know that, at one time, in French the pronunciation of -ie was different than -i, and still is in poetry (the -ie indicating the feminine form of a word). The ending -y is rarely ever found in French.

  • Do you have any evidence for this statement? (Aside from the French pronunciation, which is a completely different language). Feb 8, 2016 at 1:35
  • Completely different language, @PeterShor ? I guess you're referring to Modern French and Modern English. But Middle English was highly influenced by French in those days, wasn't it?
    – Tim Ward
    Feb 8, 2016 at 5:31
  • @Tim: Early Middle English may have been heavily influenced by French, but by the 16th century (which the OP is asking about), it was a completely different language. Feb 8, 2016 at 11:27

According to The Guardian, the -y and -ie suffixes have different origins in English:

y or ie? As a general rule: -y is an English suffix, whose function is to create an adjective (usually from a noun, eg creamy); -ie was originally a Scottish suffix, whose function is to add the meaning of "diminutive" (usually from a noun, eg beastie).

So in most cases, where there is dispute over whether a noun takes a -y or an -ie ending, the correct answer is -ie: she's a girly girl, but she's no helpless girlie. Think also scrunchie, beanie, nightie, meanie ... There are exceptions (a hippy, an indie band), but where specific examples are not given, use -ie for nouns and -y for adjectives.

Questia has a link to an article excerpt by Kenneth Shields titled "On the Origin of the English Diminutive Suffix -Y, -Ie", but the complete article is only available to subscribers.

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