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I'm looking for a word (adjective) to describe a sound that is very weak and coming in and out. It may also be used to describe a dying heartbeat that is inconstant and indicative of imminent death. I initially thought the word was "feathery," but Google tells me that's totally off base; I mention it, nonetheless, on the off chance that the two words are similar and it may better facilitate your recall of the right word. Also, I'm fairly certain the word ends in -y.

The word should fit the following sentence -

The soldier's breath was _____ as he lay bleeding, dying.

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I would say faint:

Low in volume or barely audible

  • She heard a faint noise in the deckhead, like a distant flag flapping in the breeze. (WordHippo)

Since you specified that it must end in -y, I also thought weary might be appropriate in this context:

Feeling or showing extreme tiredness, especially as a result of excessive exertion (WordHippo)

As you can see from this Gngram, both faint breath and weary breath are used, but "faint prevails".

I found faint used in a text on this site:

All the colour had gone from his cheeks and his breath was faint.

As for weary I found that "to draw a weary breath" is more common than "his breath was weary". So you could say:

The soldier drew a weary breath/weary breaths as he lay bleeding out.

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Picturing the scene, one could analogize the dying soldier with a chugging train. The metaphor works well as the definition by the American Heritage Dictionary below shows:

A dull explosive sound, usually short and repeated, made by or as if by a laboring engine.

Likewise,

The soldier's breath was a chugging train as he lay bleeding.

EDIT

Thanks to Edwin Ashworth for helping me fine-tune the comparison.

Incidentally, one writer has, in the link below, likened forced breathing to the chugging of a train. You could find a raft of other such similes by reputed writers.

https://books.google.co.in/books?id=N6ETrr5QpZYC&pg=PA103&dq=his+breath+came+out+chugging&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjon-O6tbLuAhUZIbcAHQQNAokQ6AEwAnoECAkQAg

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    The simile doesn't fit OP's template, but 'The soldier's breath was a chugging train as he lay bleeding' does. I don't think it's a good metaphor here though; chugging trains speak of at least reasonable power. Jan 23 '21 at 19:31
  • Fair point, @Edwin Ashworth. I have modified my answer a bit. I agree that it still doesn't meet the demand of the question precisely, but may be OP will find it of some help.
    – user405662
    Jan 24 '21 at 8:21
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I woould like to correct you, it is in the past tense, so it is lay, not lie.

Try shuddering, or faint.

Shuddering

The soldier's breath was shuddering as he lay bleeding out.

Shuddering definition in Cambridge Dictionary.

Faint

The soldier's breath was faint as he lay bleeding out.

Faint meaning in the Cambridge Dictionary.

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fitful

often stopping and starting and not happening in a regular or continuous way:

fitful breathing

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fitful

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Waning, abating, or dwindling.

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