Yeah … these two words seem the same but which one should you use?
Yea vs. yeah
Yea can be used as an informal adverb meaning “yes” or “to affirm,” or as a noun to indicate an affirmative vote. When used in a vote, yea can be pronounced like “yay.”
Yea can also be used as an adverb to amplify an adjective or to say “not only … but also …” (although, this usage of the word appears to be dated, and rarely used in modern English or literature). For example: a good, yea, a delicious cake.
What is the correct spelling?
The correct spelling of the word depends on which way you want to use it. In an informal setting, where it is being used to agree, affirm, or in the place of the word yes, yeah is the more modern, preferred, and commonly used version.
If it is being used in a more formal setting, like a job interview, the formal yes would be the more appropriate choice over yea or yeah.
That may seem a little confusing, but here’s a helpful hint: in most instances it is yeah that you want. It is when you are looking to amplify a descriptive word or vote that yea really comes into play.
OK, here’s a little cheat sheet:
- To affirm, agree, say yes: yea and yeah
- To vote yes: yea and yay (you’re saying this one, not writing it, so it’s really about the pronunciation here!)
- To amplify an adjective, or to say “not only, but also”: yea (for example: This book was a good read, yea, the best I read all year.)
Why are there two spellings?
Chances are you will find yourself using both yea and yeah in conversation at some point in your life. With both words having similar pronunciations, unless you are casting a vote, nobody will know which version of the word you are using until you write it down.
Voting is when that extra H makes the most difference. For example, it would not be appropriate to vote yeah on a measure, unless you were looking to register your vote with a touch of sarcasm. In other words, you should only vote yea (pronounced similar to the opposing vote of nay) when looking to cast your vote in the positive.
What is the history of these words?
Sometime around the early 1900s, yea and yes became yeah. While yea (and yes) have been around far longer than the word yeah (it looks like yea and yes can be traced back to the 900s) the sentiment has been around forever.
While the three words once meant the same thing, it appears that the H was added on to distinguish the two meanings above and to move the word forward into the new century. There does not seem to be any clear reason for the addition of the H other than maybe to modernize the spelling of yea. Speakers may have just decided that the word,which is close to 1,300-years-old now, needed a makeover.
All three words are a derivative of Middle English, and have roots in Old Norse and Gothic. While you probably do not hear a lot of the old Middle English (or Old Norse for that matter), both versions of the informal word for yes are still commonly used today.