Some words in the English language end with a "-yr", such as, satyr, martyr, or zephyr.

What is the origin of the -yr ending? What is the meaning of the -yr ending?

I have searched the etymology, and all I could find is that it is Greek. That does not answer my question. I want to know why it is -yr and not, for example, -er or -or. Does the -yr have any special significance?

  • @ArtyomLugovoy I figured as much seeing as the words are based from Greek. I will revise my question some. I want to know what the '-yr' means exactly. Where the -yr originates from, not just the language it is from.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 22:49
  • If you check the etymologies you will see that there's no consistent origin.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 0:06
  • @HotLicks As I said, I did check that. I was hoping that someone, like ermanen below, would be able to tell me more. Also, if you can, how is this question off-topic? I thought etymology of English words was on-topic here?
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 19:15
  • @ermanen Thanks! That is exactly what I was wanting to know. If the question was open, I would accept this.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 19:15
  • the -yr ending seems to have the same origins as -er and -or. In matyr, "mart-" is probably ultimately < the same Indo-European base as classical Latin "morī" to die - martyr - one who dies.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


The short "y" represents the sound of "i" before "r" in the words zephyr, martyr, satyr. You can see "y" representing the value of short "i" in other words like analysis, crypt, etymology, Egypt, myth, oxygen, pterodactyl, system etc. derived from Greek but borrowed through Latin or French.

The common pattern in zephyr, martyr, satyr can be traced back to their ultimate Ancient Greek origin which has a similar ending and and the letter upsilon (υ).

The relevant part from the etymology of the words from OED:

  • zephyr: < classical Latin Zephyrus < ancient Greek Ζέϕυρος
  • martyr: < post-classical Latin martyr < Hellenistic Greek μάρτυρ
  • satyr:     Partly < classical Latin satyrus and partly (in later use) < Middle French satire, satyre (French satyre) (late 14th cent.) < classical Latin satyrus < Ancient Greek σάτυρος

The letter “y” was a readoption in Latin of the Greek upsilon (υ), and was used for Greek borrowings.

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