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[sem-ee-vou-uh l] /ˈsɛm iˌvaʊ əl/
Phonetics. a speech sound of vowel quality used as a consonant, as (w) in wet or (y) in yet.
Origin of semivowel
1520-30; semi- + vowel; replacing semivocal < Latin sēmivocālis half vowel Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for semivowel
Historical Examples
  • Effect of the semivowel y on certain letters when they precede it.

    A Handbook of the English Language Robert Gordon Latham
  • In roi it is the semivowel allied to series p; in oil it is the semivowel allied to series k.

    The English Language Robert Gordon Latham
  • The diphthong oi is the vowel o modified, plus the semivowel y (not the vowel i) modified.

    The English Language Robert Gordon Latham
  • It has taken the allied sound of the semivowel y, and so, with the preceding vowel, constitutes a diphthong.

    The English Language Robert Gordon Latham
  • It should be noted that the Dictionarium, which was written contemporaniously, does use y for the semivowel.

British Dictionary definitions for semivowel


noun (phonetics)
a vowel-like sound that acts like a consonant, in that it serves the same function in a syllable carrying the same amount of prominence as a consonant relative to a true vowel, the nucleus of the syllable. In English and many other languages the chief semivowels are (w) in well and (j), represented as y, in yell
a frictionless continuant classified as one of the liquids; (l) or (r)
Also called (US and Canadian) glide
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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