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Yay! It’s Yeah and Yea!

Read Time: 2 min

This is driving me crazy. I just got an email with the subject, “Yeah a Birthday Baby is Born”. I’m not sure the sender (who is not known for her grammatical prowess) meant to sound as sarcastic as the teenagers we teach, but to someone who knows the difference between “yeah”, “yea” and “yay”, she did.

And just what is the difference? If you don’t know, you’re certainly not alone. Even Spell Check doesn’t know the difference. It’s a trivial thing, and most people don’t care. But I do.

Let’s review:

“Yeah”

Yeah, it’s, like, teenager talk. “Yeah” is pronounced yah-uh. This is not a celebration word. This isn’t something you’d say when a friend has a new grandbaby born on her birthday (as the email I received told me). It’s slang. It means “yes” or “whatever.” Sometimes we even use it with "so" to make it even more casual (or obnoxious), “Yeah, so, I was bored.” Big freakin’ deal.

“Yea”

Hey, everyone, let’s vote. Do you vote yea or nay? “Yea” sounds like may, hay or even yay (which we’ll get to in a minute), but it means an old-fashioned “yes.” It is the oldest of the collection and was the root of all versions of yes words today. “Yeah”, which means yes, definitely derived from “yea”, which also means a more formal yes, but then so did an exclamation of excitement that is almost never used correctly.

“Yay”

Yay! We’re finally using “yay” correctly! Ironically as I type this, Microsoft Word is trying to correct me. It doesn’t think that “yay” is a word. Apparently I should use “yap” instead, but I won’t. I think we all know Word isn’t right all the time. If you’re excited, “yay” is the word to correctly use according to what we consider “proper” English. “Yea” gives you a vote and “yeah” is just agreeing – only “Yay!” can really convey true enthusiasm.

My challenge to you: Pay attention to just how often these words are mixed up, flipped around and blatantly misused. At the same time, you might try to avoid misusing them yourself.

Yay! Yeah and yea are finally sorted out!

64 thoughts on “Yay! It’s Yeah and Yea!”

  1. It’s funny that you addressed this because this has been one of my growing pet peeves over the last few months.

    Except, my beef is with the “word” yay. I use yeah and yea a lot, but I use yea to mean “Yes!” As in, “Yea! I got paid today!” (Yes! I got paid today!)

    Yeah is my sarcastic, “yeah, but” kind of word. As in, “Yeah, so I didn’t get paid today after all.” (Yes, so, the guy’s a jerk for saying I was going to get paid and he didn’t come through.”)

    Yay drives me nuts, because it’s not yes. It’s a sound.

    The way you put it though, I might reconsider my usage. I still don’t like yay, but it does make some sense that yea is more formal than yay, which I’m not striving for when I use these words.

    Reply
  2. This is an American thing. One might just use archaic “yea” in print in the UK but otherwise I would only need to know the difference between the three when watching a US TV program. People do say “yeah” in the UK but with possibly different pronunciation and in Kathi’s context

    Reply
    • I’ve never seen them used interchangeably (and intentionally) from anyone who knows better. They’re different words. The fact that some people use one incorrectly doesn’t mean they’re now the same. Also, it’s less that she’s upset and more that I hire her to cover issues like this for writers who are new and don’t know any better. We get plenty of ESL folks here looking to improve their English writing skills, and these little grammatical mistakes are some of the things that stand out when a prospect reviews those writers’ samples.

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    • I am from Louisiana and we use ya for you. Examples:
      I love ya!
      See ya later
      Do ya wanna go with me?
      Maybe incorrect grammar but has always been accepted down here in the bayou’s!!!

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    • In the south we use “ya” in a slang way such as “we missed “ya” at the cookout” . So in all languages these words are used differently. Play with words and find your way to proper English. Thanks!

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    • Here in the Northwest, “ya” is use as a lazy, upbeat, or informal “yes”. Quite a wide range of appropriate inflections. Sometimes we humorously adding to it, which makes it sound European, as in “ya, sure, ya betcha”. This demonstrates the inclusion of both “yes” and “you”, in the same sentence. FWIW.

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  3. Yay! You know, for a non-native English speaker, these things are quite useful, because they are often used out of context.

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    • During a very intense text exchange of sexual feelings , my lover expressed himself positively , by responding to my aroused expression of feelings with a word that doesn’t exist ! He texted an affirmative expression – – ,” yaaaaaz” I was amused because of the need to express an intense response , he invented a word as if it was necessary to do so . ‼️

      Reply
  4. Perhaps to avoid confusion one might use “yesss!” in print to enthusiastically affirm the point or event.
    At least it is less ambiguous than the other versions of “yes,” though I am not fond of its verbal use.

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  5. Good Morning,
    I wanted to know if you could give me a few recommendation on increasing my vocabulary, better grammar usage and tips to read more.

    Reply
    • I would suggest using a dictionary to read and high the words that are available in different spelling and meanings or usages. Then go to the thesaurus and find the words you need for the dictionary words and highlight them also.
      You will have an amazing vocabulary to impress all!

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    • Instead of using yay , to express enthusiastic agreement about some announcement from my niece , I used the longer version , “ Hooray ! I don’t know if it is appropriate . It just sounds like it is clearly a big “ Yes! “

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  6. All correct except that “yeah” is not limited to contemporary teen slang, sarcastic in tone, and pronounced “yah-uh.” Appropriate use as an informal expression of agreement, pronounced “yeh,” has long been common and acceptable. I often use it in that way, as in “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”

    Reply
    • That’s why she mentioned that it’s slang for “yes.” 🙂 The mention of teenagers was in reference to the previous example she gave. It’s how the word can come across, and did, in the subject line of the email she received. The explanation of the pronunciation is spot-on either way. She was simply trying to show how it differs from the pronunciation of the other terms here. We just don’t think about it because we tend to say the word quickly, where the “uh” portion isn’t always obvious.

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  7. You have forgotten to mention the adverb use of “yay” when indicating size, as in “My pile of unfinished grammar homework is yay high.”

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  8. Yay!!!! Someone who knows what they’re saying!

    I use the word (expression) “yeah” for: “Yeah!” For like saying or agreeing, “That’s right!”, with real enthusiasm.

    Is this right? And, are my commas in the correct places for that last sentence (above⤴)?

    Thank you for your help!
    Where would we be without real-life “Teachers”!
    ~ Peace, Nola

    Reply
  9. As King said above, I use “yeah” (which I would pronounce y – short ‘a’ as in “yap”) as a positive exclamation, as in “Oh Yeah!” ( Saying “Oh Yay-uh” just sounds too affected to me.) But by itself “yeah” doesn’t carry the same positive meaning. I tend to agree with Microsoft word that “Yay” isn’t a word but, as the article indicates, it might be the best to use as a positive exclamation by itself, without the “Oh.”

    I would not use any of these in standard writing, but I found this article interesting because I was trying to find the best word to use on Facebook!

    Reply
    • Microsoft Word may not think “yay” is a word, but it is according to the Merriam and Webster Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary, the Cambridge English Dictionary, etc. “Yay: an exclamation expressing congratulations, triumph, joy, approval, or encouragement.” Perhaps that’s a better way to make the distinction between “yeah” and “yay” – yay is an exclamatory term and yeah is a casual term of assent or agreement.

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  10. I have used”yeah” for about 40 yrs to meant hooray or e-ya (sound) for yeah. Also thought everyone I was communicating with was understanding and pronouncing the same as me. Now I Ferrell the needed to ask some on my friends about this trivial but interesting issue. Yah seems like another possibility for spelling and pronunciation. Comments?

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  11. Thanks! I’ve been a writer for years but never knew the correct spelling for “yay” until now. As for who wants to know such an insignificant fact, well, I do!

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    • Back to the topic of Yay being celebratory and yea meaning yes: I was a cheerleader in the early 70’s and all the typed cheers that were handed out at camp used “yea” for things like “Yea! Cowboys!” etc. Looked in a 1970 edition of dictionary and there is no word “yay” listed. Both yea and yeah meant “yes” or an affirmation of something. As for using both of them as a celebratory remark, it makes sense. Don’t we sometimes cheer “YES” and simultaneously do a fist pump?

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  12. This was very helpful! I’m a manager and I text my employees a lot. I was very confused with all of this. I’ll look a lot more competent now!

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  13. How about Yah! I use interchangeably Ya, Yeah, Yea! I have never used Yay – that just doesn’t even look like a word.
    But I still use a comma in my sentences before because … which I heard is wrong now.

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  14. Yay! I used the correct spelling. Considering this was one of my first words and that my mom was an english teacher, i’m doing pretty good today. By the way there is so much wrong phrasing and punctuation in online news sites, even establishment news sites, do articles go past editors these days?

    Long live English Teachers!

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  15. Thank you for the correct spelling and meaning. I always hesitate before writing yay because I’m never quite sure. Yay now I know. When I get texts, emails, etc. it seems that a lot of ‘peeps’ say yeah when expressing excitement. I appreciate using proper English. It’s obvious that you are an English teacher because you explained it perfectly:)

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  16. I’ve been using “Yeah” as in “yes, I agree”. Like this “Yeah, I can’t wait either.” And then “Yeah?” as in “realy?”. Like this “Yeah, she was fired yesterday?”. After reading these comments, now I’m not sure. I hope that it wasn’t coming across as “Yay, she was fired…” :O

    Reply
    • I can see either of those being OK Jim. In the second example you gave, it’s still basically saying “yes?” It’s a sort of yes/no confirmation, but saying “yes” would seem oddly formal which might be why “yeah” seems a more natural fit.

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  17. I am trying to translate the Book of Mormon into my main constructed language. It says “yea” a lot, and I was confounded on it’s meaning. Thanks for the help!

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  18. Yay!! I’ve been using the words correctly. Now that I text with others so much I’ve been wondering the difference in the words. Thanks for clarifying.

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  19. I hope the chick who wrote you that email never saw this. She would probably have her feelings hurt. By the way.. what the heck is a “birthday baby?” When a baby is born, that’s its birthday. So, therefore, every baby that is born is a “birthday baby.”

    Reply
  20. Thank you so much for this helpful info. For years I’ve been worried that I was using these words incorrectly, or rather, misspelling the word I intended to write (it turns out I wasn’t.) now I have the confidence to help others sort out this confusion. For that, I thank you.
    – Addison Draper
    p.s. – if you haven’t done so already would you write about punctuation and where it belongs in relation to quote marks and/or parentheses? If you do I promise to always use “yeah, yea and yay” correctly from now on (but what about, “ya”?
    ps – thank you for being a teacher! Anyone who can read this should go out today and thank a teacher just for being a teacher.
    And another thing…if I have more to say, should it be “p.s.s. or p.p.s.

    Reply
    • Hi Addison,

      Rebecca no longer writes for the blog, but I’ll pass your kind words to her.

      “Ya” is slang for “you.” So you might say “I’ll see ya later,” instead of “I’ll see you later.” It’s not directly interchangeable with the others here. And it’s pronunciation would rhyme with “uh.”

      Punctuation in relation to quotation marks depends on where you live and write. In the U.S. for example, we put punctuation inside quotes generally (like I did in the previous paragraph). In UK English, the rules are different. Here’s a resource that goes over some basic rules on that for you:

      https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/577/03/

      And it would be p.p.s. rather than p.s.s. 🙂 (For post postscript)

      Reply
  21. Yay! I can now get it right!
    You’re appreciated because your readers don’t have to go elsewhere. They might get their answers there, where they’re incorrect. 🙂
    Thank you.

    Reply
  22. I do not believe it. Seeing the three letters “Y-A-Y” is offensive to my eyes. The premise that if a word is pronounced differently, then it must have different spellings. There are many cases in the English language. The correct spelling is Y-E-A-H for both an informal assent and also a cheer.

    Reply
    • Sadly something being offensive to your eyes doesn’t make that proclamation true. “Yeah” is not pronounced “yay,” and it is not the correct spelling when used to describe someone cheering. It’s one thing to say “this is how I use a word.” It’s something else to declare correct usage incorrect simply because you don’t like it.

      Reply
  23. “Yea!” is the correct spelling both for an archaic “yes” and for a celebratory shout. “Oh, yea! It’s Tuesday!”

    “Yay” means “about this much”. “It was yay long. See, look at my hands. That’s how long it was. Yay long.”

    “Yay!” as a celebratory word is incorrect, no matter how many people use it. Until I’m dead.

    Even more irritating — lately I keep seeing people write “yea” when they clearly mean “yeah”. What the hell are they teaching in our underfunded schools?

    Reply
    • https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/yay

      https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yay

      https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/yay

      https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/yea

      https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yea

      https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/yea (the only one listing “yea” as even a variant of “yay”)

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  24. Sad to say, I am a native English speaker and in my mid-forties and I just realized that yea does not mean yay. I have been using it incorrectly for at least the last ten years and presumably before that. Sheesh!

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  25. My uneducated husband says ‘yea’ is definitely ‘yes’ and ‘yeah’ is everything else depending on pronunciation, where you live and who you are talking to. He never reads a book but can spell anything you ask. He is From Scotland and says he speaks the Queens English if that helps anyone.

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  26. What about the spelling of “yeah”? I see it as “yah” and “ya” fairly frequently, and I hate it, lol. I think of “ya” as a slang of “you” and “yah” pronounced as “yaw.”

    Reply

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