Yay or nay?

Writing yay or nay instead of yea or nay is one of the most common misspellings in the English language. The correct way to use the idiom is ‘yea or nay’ or aye or no.’ By itself, we only use the word yay as an exclamatory or for verbal depictions of measurement.

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What is the difference between yay or nay vs. yea or nay?

People often wonder how to use the term ‘yay or nay,’ and whether it’s interchangeable with ‘yea or nay.’ But when it comes down to researching the answers, you’re bound to find a lot of conflicting or inaccurate information online. A large portion of the top Google results assume the phrase “yay or nay” is accurate, but these claims are actually false. 

Between ‘yay or nay’ vs. ‘yea or nay,’ the correct way to write the phrase is actually ‘yea or nay,’ or ‘aye or no.’ There are plenty of Google results that overlook aye as a synonym for yea, but it’s a significant term that’s related to the word ‘yes,’ where yay is not. 

Yay for voting?

Surely, most native English speakers have heard the expression, ‘All in favor, say yea or nay,’ but it’s important to know why we use it in the first place. The inclination to ask about the differences between ‘yay or nay’ and ‘yea or nay’ involves the concept of voice voting, which is a form of verbal polling where the winning vote is measured by how loudly people call out their answers.  

In this sense, the expression ‘yea or nay’ is another way to say or ask, ‘yes or no?’ and it’s predominantly used as an idiom since it utilizes a specific style of speech that predates Early Modern English of the 15-17th centuries. 

Of course, there are still modern instances where publications incorrectly use ‘yea or nay’ outside of its appropriate spoken context. For example, the New York Magazine published an article reporting on the 2020 impeachment trials stating, 

“The same members took the same votes, often even saying yay or nay in the same cadence…”

The emerging usage of yay as a synonym of yea or aye is an editorial error, however. The reason it’s inaccurate to use yay instead of yea goes beyond the fact that yay doesn’t carry the same definition–– yay doesn’t even fit on the map of time where the idiom ‘yea or nay’ was first used. 

Yay is not closely related to yea, aye, or nay

Before the time of Early Modern English (EME), the English language was a mixed bag of culture that incorporated dialects from Western and Northern Germanic peoples. These two Germanic dialects developed into languages such as Old Norse, Old English, Low Saxon, and Old High German, which further split into other distinct languages heard today. 

Because EME is more closely related to Swedish or Norweigan than Spanish or French, there are several English phrases connected to Old Norse, such as nay and nei, or aye and ei. So, which came first? 

Records indicate that Old English developed before Old Norse, although etymology sources speculate that words like aye and nay derive from Old Norse influences. What this means is that yea and nay likely developed between 801-1300 CE, where Old Norse and Old English are relatively concurrent. 

The word aye developed as a variant of Old English yea (gēa, ) or Old Norse ei, meaning “always” or “ever.” However, nay developed after yea in Middle English to mean “no” from Old Norse nei, which consists of ne (not) + ei (ever). Perhaps the Old Norse version of ‘yea or nay’ is ‘ei or nei,’ but the original Old English phrase is ‘yea or nay,’ while ‘aye or nay’ developed later in Early Modern English. 

What language is yay or nay?

The word yay first appeared in the English language around 1963 and is thought to have evolved from the informal exclamation “yeah.” The word yeah is an informal spelling of “yes,” which derives from Old English gēse or gīse for ‘may it be so’ or ‘so be it.’ 

Gēse and gīse are likely related to yea, but in the context of phrasing, the terms carry different meanings. Furthermore, the word yes is not etymologically connected to Old Norse like yea, aye, or nay, which indicates another reason why yay is likely unrelated to the idiom of yea or nay

What’s the difference between yay vs. yea?

The words yay and yea are often confused because they are homophones, which means they are pronounced the same even though they are spelled differently. Both terms also express approval in certain ways, but despite this, they do not share a definition when it comes to oral voting. 

Yay = “woo!”

First and foremost, the word yay is an interjection, meaning it’s an abrupt remark or exclamation that interrupts another person’s train of thought. In this particular instance, yay is an expression that’s joyful, excited, and used to express approval. 

A good example would include if a store clerk asked, “would you like a bag today?” you wouldn’t replace “yes” with “yay!” Why is that? In the exclamatory sense, yay is near the equivalent of hollering “woo!” to express excitement. 

Yea = “yes”

In contrast, the word Yea is an adverb or noun, but not an exclamation. We can certainly use the word “yes” in an exclamatory fashion, but the word yea is not defined as such. Yea is defined to mean “yes” within verbal voting or as an affirmation, or otherwise used to introduce a more exact point (e.g., not only so but,’ or ‘and yet’). 

How yay and yea are similar

The main similarity between yea and yay is that we use them to denote a vague measurement during conversations. In this case, yea is merely a different way to spell yay. For example, a person at a carnival might say, 

your child must be yea/yay tall to go on this ride.” 

In this instance, the words yay or yea communicate the same amount of information as, 

your child must be this tall to go on this ride.” 

Using either yay or yea for this type of communication is vague in writing, but if you were speaking with somebody directly and had a visual to how tall “this tall” or “yea tall” was, you would understand. 

What’s the difference between yea vs. aye?

The primary difference between yea and aye involves pronunciation. Aye is pronounced as “eye,” as in an “eyeball,” or “I,” as in the first-person pronoun. The pronunciation is entirely different from yay or yea, which we pronounce as “yay.” 

The difference in pronunciation is also analogous with how yea and aye are etymologically disconnected. Although each word represents “yes” in terms of voting, the typical use of aye occurs as a variant of “I” in the first person. 

What does yea mean?

We use the word yea as an adverb and noun in several different ways, but its general definition involves the meaning of “yes.” The exception to yea is that it’s used synonymously with yay to express measurement verbally. 

Yea as an adverb

The first way to use yea as an adverb is to describe agreeability or the act of casting a “yes” vote

For example,

“All in favor, say yea or nay.” 
“I cannot bring myself to say yea.” 

Synonyms:

Absolutely, alright, aye, certainly, exactly, indeed, indisputably, okay, positively, undoubtedly, unquestionably, yeah, you bet/betcha, word, yes. 

Antonyms

Nay, no, scarcely. 

The secondary way to use yea as an adverb is to introduce a more direct phrase or a formal word similar to “even,” “in fact,” or “not just this, but in addition.” In this sense of the word, the term nay is synonymous with yea because we use them the same way. 

For example,

“But the party, yea, the engagement, was canceled?” 

Synonyms:

Even, incontestably, indeed, indisputably, in fact, in reality, in truth, nay, positively, really, surely, truly, undeniably, undoubtedly, unquestionably, verily. 

The last way to write yea as an adverb is while informally explaining the extent of a measurement in a vague manner, where yea is comparable to the word “this.”

For example,

“My son is only yea big.”
“He is yea thin.”

Synonyms

This, yay.  

Yea as a noun

As a noun, the word yea defines the act of agreement or affirmation, or as a person who provides an affirmative vote. 

For example,

“The senate requires 61 yeas to approve the motion.” 

Synonyms

Affirmative, aye, exactly, indeed, positive, truly, yes. 

Antonyms

Blackball, nay, negative, no, non placet, refusal, rejection, turndown, veto. 

What does yay mean?

The word yay is less complicated than yea in that it’s only used in two ways: as an interjection or an adverb. 

Yay as an interjection or exclamation

The word yay is an informal interjection or exclamation that expresses approval, excitement, and happiness.

For example,

Yay! I’m so happy you’re here!” 

Synonyms:

Cheers, hurray, huzza, rah-rah, whoopee, yippee.

Yay as an adverb

We use yay as an informal adverb alongside other adjectives in a sentence. In this sense, the word yay describes a vague measurement or extent similar to “this.” 

For example,

“I remember when you were only yay tall.” 

Synonyms

This. 

What does aye mean?

Aye as an adverb

As an adverb, aye is also used as a way to say “yes,” but more specifically as an agreement that’s everlasting, continuous, or ‘forever.’ 

For example,

Aye-aye, captain!”

Synonyms:

Always, aye-aye, forever.  

Aye as a noun

We use the word aye as a noun to define a “yes” vote or an agreeable voter. The plural form of aye is ayes, and it’s used for the phrase ‘the ayes have it’ to indicate when the majority of votes are affirmative. 

Synonyms

Affirmative, always, continually, okay, yes, yea. 

Antonyms

Nay, negative, no, opposed. 

Is aye the same as ay?

The word ay is pronounced the same as aye, but the grammatical use of ay is different from aye because it’s an interjection. In a sentence, the word ay is followed by ‘me’ to describe sorrow, which is similar to the expression ‘woe is me.’ 

For example,

Ay me, we must surrender to this bloody fate.” 

Synonyms of ay also include alack, alas, and “wirra,” which is an Irish interjection that expresses grief and lament. 

Another reason why aye and ay are different from each other is that ay stems from Middle French aymi, which means “ay me.” Unlike Old English, Middle English, or any dialect of Germanic languages, French is rooted in Italic languages. Unbeknownst to most English speakers, Germanic and Italic languages developed separately and evolved to intermingle at different times in history. 

Does nay mean yes or no?

Whichever way you look at it, the word nay means “no,” and especially for a negative vote. The exception to this is when nay and yea introduce a more powerful word or phrase within a sentence. According to the descriptivist Merriam-Webster Dictionary, yea is sometimes defined as an adverb to mean “more than this,” or “not only so but.” But nay is also defined as an adverb or conjunction to mean “or rather,” “not merely this but also” or “not only so but.” 

What does nay mean?

Outside of its conjunction-adverb form, the word Nay is a Middle English adverb that means “no,” but it also represents a “no” vote as a noun. Let’s take a look at how to define nay in each sense: 

Nay as an adverb

The adverb form of nay represents an archaic British term that simply means “no.”

For example,

Nay, I cannot agree.”

Synonyms:

Even, indeed, truly, verily, yea.

Nay as a noun

As a noun, we use nay to define a refusal, denial, an oppositional response, or a “no” vote.

For example,

“The judge rejected the motion with a swift ‘nay.’”

Synonyms

Against, declination, denial, disallowance, no, nonacceptance, refusal, rejection, turndown. 

Nay as a conjunction

As mentioned before, nay can introduce a more confounding point in a sentence when it’s used similarly to “wait, no,” “not merely this but also,” or “not only so but.” 

For example,

“I am saddened, nay, devastated over this news.”

Synonyms

Actually, and event, indeed, in fact, in truth, or rather. 

What is the opposite of nay?

The opposite of nay includes words like allowance, approval, grant, okay, or yeah. Antonyms, as they’re called, only apply to nay in regards to its noun form. 

What’s the difference between nay vs. nei?

The words nay and nei each mean “no,” but unlike nay, the word nei is also a Faroese adverb that is obscure to the English language, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Nei derives from Old Norse, which originally appeared as nai in Proto-Germanic for “never,” and Proto-Indo-European as nē‎ for “not.” 

Alternate forms of nei as “no” appear in Low German dialects, extant Gothic languages, and Esperanto–– which you’ve probably never heard of. Esperanto is an international auxiliary language developed by linguists to reconstruct early communications before the advent of writing.

FAQ: Related to yay or nay vs. yea or nay

What does ‘noes’ mean?

‘Noes’ is a plural noun and an old-fashioned form of no that describes a majority negation via voice voting. 

Is spelling yay for yea an eggcorn?

There are user-generated websites, such as the Eggcorn Database forum, that insist that spelling yay for yea is an eggcorn. However, there is no definitive online source that supports this claim. FYI, an eggcorn is a word that appears from mishearing or misunderstanding a phrase.

Because yea and yay are synonymous for expressing “this much,” substituting yay for yea is not an example of an eggcorn. The words “aye” and “I” are likely contenders for eggcorn-status because they are homophones and written differently within sentences. Stating that yay and yea are eggcorns is like saying “aye” and “eye” are eggcorns–– you would have to be confused about what an eye was, to start. 

Test Yourself!

You may know how to mind your P’s and Q’s, but do you know the yay’s from the yeas? Test your grammar skills with the following multiple-choice questions for ‘yay or nay’ vs. ‘yea or nay’:

  1. True or false: Yay and yea are homophones.
    1. True
    2. False
  2. The unimpeachable substitute of yea is yay for which context?
    1. Yes votes
    2. This (much)
    3. Agreement
    4. Joy and excitement
  3. True or false: Faroesi ‘nei’ is a common word in the English language? 
    1. True
    2. False
  4. Which of the following sentences include the correct spelling of yay?
    1. ‘All those in favor, say yay or nay.’
    2. ‘Yay! I cannot wait to arrive!”
    3. ‘I remember when you were yay tall.”
    4. B and C
  5. Which of the following sentences provide incorrect examples of yay or yea?
    1. “Yea me, we must suffer.”
    2. “But the insurance, yay my life, is denied.” 
    3. “The puny animal is merely yea sized.” 
    4. A and B

Answers

  1. A
  2. B
  3. B
  4. D

Sources

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  2. Aye.” Collins English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers, 2020. 
  3. Aye.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  4. Aye.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2020. 
  5. Bauer, B.L.M., Slocum, J.“Old French Online.” Linguistics Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2020. 
  6. Jacobs, B. “Inside the Impeachment Trial: Snoozing, Stealth Snacking, and a Smirk From McConnell.New York Magazine, 22 Jan 2020. 
  7. Krause, T.B., Slocum, J. “Old Norse Online.” Linguistics Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2020. 
  8. Nay.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  9. Nay.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  10. Nei (Faroese).” WordSense.eu Dictionary, 2020. 
  11. Slocum, J., Lehmann, W.P. “Old English Online.” Linguistics Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2020. 
  12. Voice vote.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  13. Yay.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  14. Yay.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  15. Yay.” Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Dictionary.com, 2020. 
  16. Yea.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  17. Yea.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  18. Yea.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2020. 
  19. Yea or nay.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  20. Yes.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.