I'm quite sure I've seen a rule in English phonology that says that /j/ (the "y" sound) and /w/ (the "w" sound) should not occur in the ends of English syllables, but I haven't had much luck finding that rule anywhere on the web.

The rules I'm talking about are called "Phonotactics rules". As per Wikipedia, "Phonotactics is a branch of phonology that deals with restrictions in a language on the permissible combinations of phonemes. Phonotactics defines permissible syllable structure, consonant clusters and vowel sequences by means of phonotactic constraints."

An example of the rules is that /ŋ/ (the "ng" sound) cannot begin a syllable, but can end one.

I search through different websites in hopes of finding the rule that restricts /w/ and /j/ at the end of syllables, but of no use. Does this "Phonotactic rule" exist in English phonology? Can anyone provide a source that confirms this?

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    /y/ and /w/ are semivowels, and not part of diphthongs. But English tense vowels are all automatically diphthongized when stressed, so that stay is phonemically /ste/ in American English, but phonetically [stej]. Hence the rule for semivowels that you recall is redundant because in the phonemic system you're describing, phonemic semivowels are intended not to be used as offglides. No doubt there are other notations to take care of that. It's important to note that there is no single standard phonemic or phonetic system for English. Too much variation, too many linguists. Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:34
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    I'd love to see any such list of rules in one place.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:59
  • So cow, now brow, boy, toy are not examples of these sounds at the ends of words?
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 17:45
  • Sorry, you mean j at the end of a word as in Taj?
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 17:57
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    @Xanne: /j/ is the 'y' as in yes, not the J in 'Taj'. Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


The list in the Wikipedia article you mentioned does mention "No glides in syllable codas (excluding the offglides of diphthongs)", cited to Harley (2003).

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