Word Confusion: Yay, Yea, Yeah, or Yes?

Posted August 11, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 20 July 2017

I don’t know why I never pursued the yes before. Lord knows I’ve been uncomfortable with texting yeah as a thumbs-up response. There had to be something better. And, yay, I found it! The yeas are in, and I’m going all yay-happy.

More of the Affirmative

With English such a rich language, there are a number of ways to be positive AND convey a mood. Think about it. Put that imagination to work and consider a scene in which a character responds with a moody all right, a sarcastic sure, or a few obsequious of courses or absolutelys. Indeed and very well conjure up images of a stiff conservative type while yes, indeedy makes me think of Dr. Who.

Roger, aye, way, a-okay, and aye aye give it that military flavor. For the much more casual touch — yep, yup, ya, uh-huh, okay, OK, okey-dokey, okey-doke, and ‘k — are quite useful.

By all means, there are more words that give a business-like feeling or of that between equals such as certainly, right, affirmative, in the affirmative, and agreed. And lord only knows how many more are out there. So have fun!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Yay Yea Yeah Yes
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: yeah

View of the São Paulo supporters during the second semifinal match of Paulista Championship of 2009 between São Paulo and Corinthians in Cícero Pompeu de Toledo stadium, known as Morumbi. One of the most important brazilian derbies. The game ended 0 to 2.

“São Paulo and Corinthians” by Tales.ebner is his own work [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is a crowd of “yays”, but they seem rather subdued.

Representative Sam Mitchell and Representative Andrew Johnson vote

“Representative Sam Mitchell” by photographer Donn Dughi is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Representatives Representative Sam Mitchell and Andrew Johnson vote “Yea” on a bill.

All the yeahs from Usher, the Beatles, Def Leppard, Joe Nichols, Willy Moon, and Chris Brown

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…

thumbs up

“Thumbs Up” by VistaICO.com (VistaICO Toolbar Icons) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A “thumbs up” is a nonverbal way to say “yes”.

Part of Grammar:
Adverb 1; Exclamation 2

Variant spelling: yea

Adverb 3, 4
Plural: yeas

Variant spelling: yay

Adverb; Exclamation; Noun

Variant spelling: yea, yeh, yes

Exclamation; Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the Noun: yeses, yesses
Past tense or past participle: yessed
Gerund or present participle: yessing

a cheer

[North American; informal; with adjectives of measure] So

  • To this extent

[Informal] Expressing triumph, approval, or encouragement

A formal yes in voting

[Archaic or formal] Yes

  • Used for emphasis, especially to introduce a stronger or more accurate word than one just used
  • Used mainly in voting


Not only this but even

[Archaic or formal] An affirmative answer, reply, or vote

  • An affirmation
  • [In the U.S. Congress] An affirmative vote
  • A person who votes in the affirmative
Casual yes

[Informal] Yes

nonstandard spelling of yes, representing informal pronunciation

A positive reply

Base yes

Used to express agreement in answer to a question, request, or offer or with an earlier statement

Used to introduce a phrase with greater emphasis or clearness

Used to show uncertainty or polite interest

Used to indicate excitement

Used to give an affirmative response

  • Expressing agreement with a positive statement just made
  • Expressing contradiction of a negative statement

Used as a response to someone addressing one or otherwise trying to attract one’s attention

Used to question a remark or ask for more detail about it

  • Asked at the end of a statement to indicate the expectation of agreement

Encouraging someone to continue speaking

Expressing delight

An affirmative answer or decision, especially in voting

Verb, transitive:
To give an affirmative reply to

  • Give assent or approval to
I knew him when he was yay big.

I dunno. I reckon he was about yay high…

Yay! Great, Julie!

Yay! I’m so happy for you.

She has the right to say yea or nay.

He was full, yea, crammed with anxieties.

Yea, and he did come.

He was a good, yea, a noble man.

How say you? Yea or nay?

Yea, though thou dost spurn me, I shall come about.

The assembly would give the final yea or nay.

The yeas have it.

“Will you cook dinner tonight?” “Yeah, sure.”

Yeah! You go, girl!

She gave me the yeah.

This is the year of yeah.

We got that, like, ya know, that yeah connection.

“Are you ready?” “Yes, I am.”

Yes, I think you are right.

We are glad, yes, very glad to see you!

Yes? Who’s there?

Yes, what can I do for you?

Yes! We won!

“Do you understand?” “Yes.”

“That was a grand evening.” “Yes, it was.”

“You don’t want to go.” “Yes, I do.”

“Oh, Mr. Lawrence.” “Yes?”

“It should be easy to check.” “Oh yes? How?”

You think I perhaps killed Westbourne, yes?

“When you bought those photographs…” “Yes?”

Ooh, plenty to eat, including hot roast beef sandwiches (yes!).

“Did it come as a surprise to you?” “Yes and no.”

They answered with assured and ardent yeses.

His answer is yes.

We need a yes to take immediate action.

Verb, transitive:
Yes, you can go ahead.

Yes, do it.

All that yessing and noing was going to give me a headache.

Noun: aye Adverb: ay, aye
History of the Word:
1 1960s and probably a variant of the adverb yea or yeah.

2 First appeared in 1669

Before 900, Old English gēa or is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch and German ja.

Middle English ye, ya

American English, colloquial, by 1863, from a drawling pronunciation of yes.

1900-05 as a variant of yea or yes.

Old English gēse or gīse is probably from an unrecorded phrase meaning may it be so.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Other Resources

You may want to check out the Oxford University Press’ posts, “22 ways to say yes” and (don’t it just figure?) “29 ways to say no“.

Pinterest Photo Credits

Gabe’s Birthday by Twice25 under the CC-BY 1.0 license; Felix the Cat by Otto Messmer, converted to vector by Tom Edwards is in the public domain; China Ceramics Red Plate by Rosemania under the CC-BY 2.0 license; and, Party Hat by Salix under the CC-BY 3.0 license, all via Wikimedia Commons.