Yay or Nay – What’s the Difference?

English is a versatile language that affords speakers and writers a wealth of options for signaling agreement and disagreement. To signal agreement, a person could say certainly, or I agree, or even simply yea.

Similarly, signaling disagreement is also easy, with options like of course not and I disagree. One who disagrees could also say nay.

The situation becomes confusing, however, when we notice that yea has a homophone, yay. When we say yea, are we signaling agreement, or excitement?

In spoken English, listeners must rely on context to intuit the meanings of these words. In written English, the spelling is the key to learning the differences between these two confusing words.

What is the Difference Between Yay and Nay?

In this article, I will compare yay vs. nay. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see it in context.

Plus, I will show you how to use a mnemonic device to help make choosing yay or nay easier.

When to Use Yay

yay versus nay What does yay mean? Yay is an informal affirmative exclamation, much like hooray. It can be used to signal one’s excitement or to estimate the general size of something.

For example,

  • “We’re getting pizza tonight,” said Karla. “Yay! I love pizza!” replied Stephanie.
  • Yay! My favorite author is releasing her latest book next week. I can’t wait.
  • We should have enough materials here to finish the project. The dresser is only yay big.

When to Use Yea

Definition of nay definition and definition of yay definition What does yea mean? Yea is used to signal a yes vote.

For example,

  • “Do we want to order pizza tonight, yea or nay?” queried Angela.
  • “All in favor of the new proposition to increase worker benefits, say yea,” instructed the chairperson.
  • The measure passed the House of Representatives with 236 votes yea and only 199 votes nay.
  • Amash immediately sprinted into the chamber and tried to put his card in the voting slot to cast his yea or nay, but the vote had closed. –Politico

When to Use Nay

Define nay and define yay What does nay mean? Nay is used to signal a no vote. For the sound a horse makes, use neigh instead, or whinny.

Here is a set of example sentences for nay,

  • “Nay, stop the presses! The war is over!” exclaimed the harried journalist.
  • “I vote nay on any resolution that damages the livelihoods of the people of Idaho,” said the Idahoan senator.
  • A nay vote leaves in place the current tax rates for corporations doing business on US soil.
  • But the latest “whip count” shows that more than two dozen GOP House members plan to vote “Nay” on the bill, according to a tally compiled by NBC News. –CNBC

Nay can also be used to emphasize a more appropriate word choice than the one just used.

For example,

  • I will need two, nay, three new t-shirts.
  • Any lawyer — nay, any politician — will tell you that if you aren’t asked to commit to a position, you shouldn’t volunteer one. –The Washington Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

what is yay or nayHere are the basic guidelines of nay vs. yay,

  • For a no vote, choose nay.
  • For a yes vote, choose yea.
  • Yay is an affirmative exclamation and is not used for voting.

Remembering when to use each of these words in their voting context is a simple matter.

  • Yea and yes start with Y.
  • Nay and no start with N.

These two words are easy to keep separate. But, how do you separate yea vs. yay? That is the trickier question.

The way I keep track is that yea, and expression of assent, is only one letter off from yeah, a similar expression. Yay shares its last two letters with a similar expression hooray!

Here’s a simply chart to remember,

  • Yea > Yeah
  • Yay > Hooray!

Using this memory tool, you should always be able to remember when to use nay or yay. For an article on yea vs. yeah, see here.


Is it yay or nay? Yay, yea, and nay are all used primarily in speech, so some people get them confused when they translate them to writing.

  • Yea indicates a yes vote.
  • Nay indicates a no vote.
  • Yay is an affirmative exclamation, and is also used concurrently with a hand gesture to indicate size. It is not used for voting.

Yea and yes each begin with the same letter, and nay and no begin with the same letter. For this reason, choosing between these words should be easy.

In summary,

  • Yay means
  • Yea means yes.
  • Nay means