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In some South American accents, the “y” sound is pronounced like the English “j”. However, when “y” is located at the end of words such as “soy” and “estoy”, the “y” is pronounced as the English “i”.

In a phrase with a word ending in “y”, does the “j” sound carry over to the next syllable?

In other words, if I say “voy a comer”, how should I pronounce the “y”?

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Remember letters are not the same as sounds. The y at the end of voy has nothing to do with the y at the beginning of yo (for example); it's just the same letter being used to represent two different sounds. We don't move letters around from one word to another; we move sounds.

Technically speaking, the final sounds of voy are a diphthong, and the final part of the diphthong is a non-syllabic i sound. The word should (in a completely regular orthography) be written voi. But at the end of words, by convention (an arbitrary rule), this non-syllabic i is written as y (e.g. muy, soy, voy, hay). When a vowel follows this diphthong, the y continues being a non-syllabic i, so “voy a comer” sounds like “voia comer”. This happens naturally in normal speech.

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    However, when a noun ending in a diphthong where "y" is pronounced as non-syllabic i (such as rey) takes the plural suffix -es (reyes), the "y" is pronounced as in yo, isn't it? – sumelic Feb 8 at 21:05
  • @sumelic Yes. That's another process (and I should've mentioned it). There's a discussion of it on the DPD. – pablodf76 Feb 8 at 22:33
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The letter "y" in Spanish can represent either a vowel, or a consonant. When it represents a vowel, in standard dialects it is always pronounced as /i/.1

Vocalic initial "hi-" /j/ is however merged with consonantal "y" /ɟ͡ʝ/ in some Rioplatense vernaculars,2 and hence can be exhibited as [ʒ ~ ʃ]:

Phoneme Context Examples Yeísmo Rioplatense Rioplatense (low sociolect)
/ɟ͡ʝ/ consonantal "y / ll" yo, ayer, llamo [ɟ͡ʝ ~ ʝ] [ʒ ~ ʃ] [ʒ ~ ʃ]
/j/ word initial "hi-" hierro, hiato [ɟ͡ʝ ~ j] [ɟ͡ʝ ~ j] [ʒ ~ ʃ]
/j/ rising diphthong "i" pie, meiosis [j] [j] [j]
/i/ falling dipthong "i / y" aire, voy, rey [i] [i] [i]
/i/ sylabic "i / y" y, boli [i] [i] [i]

Notes:

  1. Realized as [i ~ j] depending on context.
  2. enter image description here

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If you want to be totally correct in your pronuntiation, you should say /voi/ /a/ /comer/.

However, is very common that in casual spoken situations you end up saying /voja/ /comer/.

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  • I have to add that it's not incorrect (in any way) to move a final non-syllabic /i/ to the beginning of the following word if it begins with a vowel. Indeed, this is the natural way to speak Spanish. – pablodf76 Feb 7 at 21:35
  • I meant every single thing I said in my answer. The correct way is /voi/ /a/ /comer/, but it is usual to hear /voja/ /comer/ or /voia/ /comer/ eventhough any of them are correct. I was just saying that, when you talk fast, it is common to hear that /voja/ sound. – mcutrin Feb 8 at 15:32
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Speech is a chain of sounds, every sound has influence on its neighbour sounds, if you say isolated words they will have certain pronunciation, but if you put them in context, i.e., in a phrase, they will change a bit. Speaking words is not writing words, if you speak separating the words to make them distinct, you will sound like a robot, in any language.

All that being said, it helps a lot if you know the phonetic representation of sounds and how they should be pronounced, for instance,

spelling phonetic
voy (Spanish) βɵj
boy (English) bɔj

See: IPA Chart With Sounds

So, answering your question, both pronounciations are correct, voy will have a j sound at the end when pronounced isolated or at the end of a phrase, and it will have a y pronounciation when followed by a vowel, and it will have a kind of nasal pronounciation when followed by an m, n or ñ, as in voy mañana

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