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So generally words with a yist sound at the end are represented with an iest suffix, for example scariest or crappiest.

However the word hobbyist is not.

Is there a defined reason for this? I can't find another example like it.

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    Well there's also lobbyist. Both lobby and hobby are nouns, whereas scary and crappy are adjectives. – John Feltz Oct 20 '16 at 22:02
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    Well, -est is a superlative suffix and -ist denotes an agent (detectorist, motorist...). It's not a sound thing, it's a meaning thing. – Andrew Leach Oct 20 '16 at 22:05
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    @John Feltz - That was the answer I was after! If you want to copy it into and answer I'll mark it as such – mhouston100 Oct 20 '16 at 22:06
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's based on a misconception. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 20 '16 at 22:50
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    I am completely unaware of a close reason for a misconception. The closest is gen. ref. but am I unsure of what sort of gen. ref. resources exist to warrant closure for that reason. Results for word end Y suffix on a search engine don't seem to return relevant results. I'd recommend against deletion as this question may be helpful to other people with the same misconception. If anything, move it to E.L.L., since the answer relates to a somewhat basic rule I can find in Merriam-Webster's New International Dictionary 3rd Ed. but offline dictionaries aren't gen. ref. – Tonepoet Oct 21 '16 at 6:49
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As others have said in the comments, your problem arises from the suffix used.

Hobby, lobby + -ist -> Hobbyist, lobbyist

Crappy, scary + -est -> Crappiest, scariest

If you tried to remove the 'y' from hobby you would end up losing the sound, clearly hobbist doesn't work.
Your other alternative is to change the 'y' go and 'i'; hobbiist is definitely not nice.
All this leaves you with a much nicer alternative of hobbyist

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The difference between words ending in -ist and -est is one of the meaning of the suffix.

  • -est indicates a superlative (scariest, crappiest = most scary, etc.)
  • -ist indicates an agent (motorist, hobbyist = one who drives a motorcar, etc.)

Which suffix is used has nothing to do with the sound at all.

Whether -y becomes -i- when a suffix is used depends on the suffix: it does happen with the comparatives -er, -est or with certain agent nouns like multiplier; but English will never change -y to -i- when what is added starts with an i. Hobbyist is not spelled hobbiist.

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  • Note that although the generic superlative suffix has the vowel /ɛ/ and the agentive suffix -ist has /ɪ/, both of these result in the same pronunciation after -y /ij/: /ijɛ/ (but this may be because of pen-pin merger in my own idiolect). – Mitch Oct 21 '16 at 13:14
  • @AndrewLeach Would you mind if I edited in relevant citations to Webster's New International Dictionary 3rd ed's. rules? It'd mostly be just for citation's sake, although there is one rule that conflicts with a statement you've made: Single syllable comparatives and superlatives may optionally change -y to -i, as is the case with shier, (although shyer is the preferred form in that case). – Tonepoet Oct 21 '16 at 13:15
  • @Mitch: The pen-pin merger is only before nasals as far as I know; I think the relevant factor here is vowel reduction. (Do you really use /ɛ/? The vowel here is usually transcribed /ɪ/ or /ə/; as far as I can tell, accents without the weak vowel merger, such as "RP," use /ɪ/ in both suffixes.) – herisson Oct 21 '16 at 14:13
  • @suməlic What's the vowel in 'best'? Isn't it usually /ɛ/? – Mitch Oct 21 '16 at 14:24
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    @Mitch: Yeah. "Best" is a monosyllable, so the vowel is stressed. Most people hear a difference between their pronunciation of the stressed vowel in "best" and "west" and their pronunciation of the unstressed vowel in "longest" and "hobbyist." Then again, in fully unstressed syllables like this with reduced vowels, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ don't contrast, so it's not so surprising that someone might identify the neutralized vowel as /ɛ/ rather than as /ɪ/. – herisson Oct 21 '16 at 14:27

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