Thanks for pointing out the similar question. Great, but note that I'm trying to find ...

• is there any SPECIFIC examples/evidence around of yword yusage TODAY?

• other than jokey usage, is there any fresh and real usage?

• nobody has explained, simply what period was it popular? (if at all - or was it just an artifact or something?)

• and indeed, what ywere the Top Three Yword greatest hits?


I made an ybounden the other day,

enter image description here

and it brought to mind the questions:

These days, are there any words which use the y- prefix?

What is the origin of this prefix?

In what period was it popular?

What were, at that time, other popular words with the y- prefix?

Is it perhaps today still popular in other (European?) languages - which?

Is the whole thing just a typo/artifact? What's the deal?

But mostly ........ are there any ywords popular today?

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    I occasionally use yclept, 'cause I'm a jerk. – Dan Bron Jun 18 '16 at 12:02
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    Among hundreds of Middle English words it formed are yfallen, yhacked ("completely hacked," probably now again useful), yknow, ymarried, ywrought. (Etymonline) – user66974 Jun 18 '16 at 12:06
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    Possible duplicate of What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix "ge-"? Per OED, [the y- prefix] represents Old English ge-, earlier (and Northumb.) gi-, etc., etc. – FumbleFingers Jun 18 '16 at 12:09
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    @DanBron 'cause you're a yjerk – Kris Jun 18 '16 at 13:20
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    1) For usage nowadays, no, 'y-' is not used at all as a prefix for past participle (or for any prefix). 2) For the time span: OE used 'ge-', ME used 'y-' or not at all, EME use 'y-' very rarely ('yclept'). – Mitch Jun 20 '16 at 15:13

Many of your questions are answered tangentially by What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix "ge-"?. But you ask some new questions about current usage.

  • For usage nowadays in all varieties of Modern English, no, none of 'y-', 'ge-', or their derivatives are used at all as a prefix for past participle (or for any prefix). It might appear modified in some ossified phrases or words (eg handiwork, or in rare regionalisms as 'a-'.
  • 'ge-' is entirely a Germanic past participle marker (it appears in no other Indo-European language (sumelic will surely correct me here if otherwise)) and has been lost in many Germanic ones as well (enumerated in other answers here).
  • For the time span: OE (up to 1066) used 'ge-', ME (~1150 - ~1500) used 'y-' or not at all, EModE use 'y-' very rarely ('yclept'), and Modern Standard English never. (all dates extremely vague and labels oversimplified!). There may be various holdovers in regional dialects. But note that the descendents of 'ge-' would have to be past participles; "Froggy's gone acourtin'" is an entirely different anachronistic 'a-', not from 'ge-'.
  • the top three archaic words that are sometimes used are 'yclept' for 'called', 'yclad' for 'clothed', ... and .. really, 'ybounden'? I've never heard that outside the hymn (and even then the memory is pretty hazy (end even then I don't really know what it means)). As to popularity, sure, some people use 'yclept' in a faux medieval cant, along with 'methinks', 'betwixt', and 'ye'.

What's really a word? It's obvious when it is and obvious when it isn't, but near the borderline it's not obvious. If it is in your Scrabble dictionary... sigh ... that's a game that has to have arbitrary rules. Sure, go wild and use 'y-' in Scrabble (if your reference dictionary allows), at your local Renaissance Fayre, or to signal to your local Morris Dancing group that you are kindred spirits. Just recognize the use as very ... particular.

Also, the OED (use your local US/UK library site to connect, sorry everyone else) has an excellent entry on 'y-' (prefix 2), and answers all these questions in depth. Note that that entry has no citations, implying that it is ... not really a thing anymore.

  • LOL and excellent. :) Say, what about "a-wooing" mentioned by New User amanda? – Fattie Jan 7 '19 at 17:02
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    @Fattie That was covered in pt three about timing; the 'a-' in 'a-X-ing' is not from 'y-' but from 'on'. To be a descendent of 'ge-', the rest of the verb needs to be a past participle. – Mitch Jan 7 '19 at 17:14
  • Gotchya - awesome. Sorry i missed that. – Fattie Jan 7 '19 at 17:22
  • Betwixt is hardly medieval!!! – tchrist Jan 7 '19 at 18:58
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    Ybounden does actually mean bound: the carol affirms that Adam (mankind) was bound by sin until freed by Christ, whose coming was necessary because of the original sin of taking the apple. – Andrew Leach Jan 8 '19 at 21:26

The closest examples are with the prefix "a-" in the likes of "a frog he would a-wooing go", which is from "ge-", and the "I" in "handiwork", also from "ge-". The meaning of "ge-" in Old English wasn't ybounden to the verb or universal as it is nowadays in German, although that also has other examples too, but is more a sense of being completed or gathered together, as with "ywis" - certainly, so the "i" is a valid example.

  • Welcome new user. That is a fantastic example - THANKS – Fattie Jan 7 '19 at 15:14
  • As said here, "closest ..." Do note @Mitch 's answer though. – Fattie Jan 7 '19 at 17:22

To see those Y words in action, read The Canterbury Tales in the original language, of course. published 1386

For example, line 1149, in The Knyghtes Tale,

For which thou art ybounden as a knyght

As explained in a more complete answer, if you know that in German the past participle is formed with prefix ge-, then you can recognize the similarity with these past participles formed in Chaucer's English with y-.


In this picture, we can see the line

That whilom was ycleped Scithia,


shorter Oxford Eng Dict lists 4 yclad, yclept, ypent, ywroken but are all described as archaic. It also includes a dozen obsolete y- words which apparently derive from the germanic→Old Englsih words with the prefix ge- (and are perhaps identical to the latin co-). Did you really mean to call English a Romance language??? Same source says most of those words were lost by the late Middle English period, but some survived as intentional archaicisms and mentions the above two as well as yravish. Here is the one's I spotted:yblent, yborn, ybound, ybrent, yclepped, ydred, yfere, ygo, ypight, ysame, ysprung, ywhere.


Actually, I think there are words where Y as prefix replaced Ge and still very very much currently in use:


Middle English, from Old English gēse Old English gēse, from iā sīe meaning may it be;

and also


Old English gē a; related to Old Frisian jē, Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old High German jā, Gothic jai

and for the third one


** Old English ēow, dative and accusative of gē ye;

Definitions taken form Collins and Webster

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    It seems to me the "ge/y" in all of these words is completely unrelated to the prefix in "ybounden." – herisson Jun 20 '16 at 17:12
  • it seems to me that they are:Y denote the completion of something, as in a verb on participle, here from the verb Be, yes= so be it/it's done/indeed . For Gea =Yea = "completely always" It's more disputable for you. But I may be wrong. – P. O. Jun 20 '16 at 18:59
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    The prefix "ge/y" that denotes completion is reconstructed as Proto-Germanic ga-, thought to be from Proto-Indo-European kom-. "Yes"/"yea" are from a separate root, reconstructed as Proto-Germanic ja. "You" is from yet another root, Proto-Germanic jūz/izwiz. Consider that the German prefix ge- which is cognate to the English prefix y- is not used with the words "ja" (yes) and "ihr" (you). – herisson Jun 21 '16 at 2:25
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    That's why I say that they don't seem related. The word "you" just does not have a prefix. "Yes" and "yea" may have originated as compound words, but the first word in these compounds is unrelated to the "y-" prefix found in "ybounden." – herisson Jun 21 '16 at 2:29
  • Compare Ger. genau "exactly", apparently *ge- + *nou(we), used in place of ja occasionally; And genug "enough", cognate ME ynough, OE genog, from *ge- + *nogaz. – vectory Jan 8 '19 at 2:27

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