In the English language, there are many examples of two alternative spellings for the same word. The word ‘nosey’ or ’nosy’ is one of those.
Today we’re here to help break down the meaning of the word and the grammar rules around it, so you can understand why there’s some confusion around the spelling, and be able to decide for yourself which spelling to use.
Before we get started though, let us confirm that it is okay to spell the word either way. That's right - 'nosey' and 'nosy' are both correct. If you would like to find out why that is, and whether we have a preference, read on.
What does it mean to be 'nosey', and where does the word come from? That's what we'll explore now, as well as how to use the word correctly. Let's dive in.
A nosy person is someone who meddles in others’ affairs when they do not concern them. In other words, to be nosy means to be curious, but in a negative way. It’s to go too far to find out information that has nothing to do with you.
‘Nosy’ is an adjective and comes from the word ‘nose’. Since the 1610s, the term has been used to identify those as "having a prominent nose". Since the word ‘nose’ has connotations around meddling with other people’s affairs (such as with the saying “putting your nose in other people’s business”), one can only assume that the term ‘nosy’ has over time evolved to refer to people who like to put their nose in other people’s affairs.
Here are some examples of correct usage of the word:
These examples are correct because in these contexts the word ‘nosy’ shows that the person being referred to is being unduly curious about something that isn’t any of their business.
Here are some examples of incorrect usage of the word:
As you’ll see, the examples above are incorrect, because in these cases, the people in question are asking questions regarding something that concerns them. In the first two cases, it is their job to know what they’re being inquisitive about. In the third example, the person was simply being a good friend by checking in.
There aren’t any negative connotations associated with these people’s actions, therefore ‘nosy’ wouldn’t be the right choice of word to use.
'Nosey' or 'nosy' is not like ‘weird’ or ‘wierd’, where only one spelling is appropriate. Instead, there are two possible spellings. Why is that?
Turns out there’s actually a pretty good reason for the confusion around the spelling of the word ‘nosey’ or ‘nosy’. But to explain, we’ll need to dive into a short grammar lesson.
A suffix is a clause placed on the end of a root word to alter its meaning. In this case, the root word is ‘nose’ and the suffix is ‘y’, and the noun becomes an adjective. Some other examples of turning a noun into an adjective using a suffix are:
Pretty straightforward, right?
In the case of ‘nosy’, however, it isn’t so simple. Why? It’s due to the silent ‘e’.
A silent ‘e’ is an ‘e’ at the end of a word that isn’t pronounced. For example, see the following words:
The silent ‘e’ isn’t pronounced but it does change the pronunciation of the whole word. It tells you that the vowel in the word is long. For instance, if there were no silent ‘e’ at the end of the word ‘cake’, it would be pronounced very differently, as the ‘a’ would be short: ‘cak’.
So what does all this have to do with suffixes, and more importantly, the spelling of the word ‘nosey’ or ‘nosy’?
Essentially, when adding a suffix beginning with a vowel, the rule is to drop the final –e before adding the suffix that starts with a vowel. For example:
Let’s have a quick grammar revision. The vowels in the English language are the following:
A; E; I; O; U
And sometimes Y
Are you starting to see where the problem is? That’s right, ‘y’ is sometimes considered a vowel, and sometimes a consonant. For example, in the word ‘lawyer’, the ‘y’ is a consonant. In the word ‘gym’, however, it’s considered a vowel.
Since ‘y’ is a suffix in its own right, should we consider it a vowel or a consonant when using it as a suffix?
The answer is unclear, and this is why both spellings of ‘nosey’ and ‘nosey’ are correct.
Nose + y = nosey
Nose + y = nosy
Since both spellings are correct, how should you spell it - ‘nosey’ or ‘nosy’?
Again, there are different schools of thought on this. Some believe that you should use the spelling variant that comes first in the dictionary. In that case, according to the Collins Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, the correct spelling would be ‘nosy’.
There’s also a school of thought that says that ‘nosey’ is the correct spelling since keeping in the silent ‘e’ reminds us that the ‘o’ is long, and helps us remember how to pronounce the word.
And in this case, there are no preferred spellings based on country, so we can’t help you there!
Ultimately? It’s up to you.
Now you know ‘nose’ is a noun and ‘nosy’ an adjective, how about the other forms of the word? It can be fun to figure out different forms of a word. And now that you know about suffixes, it’s easy!
If we were to use the word ‘nosy’ as a verb, how would you use it in the present participle tense? Say, if you saw someone going about being nosy, you might say:
I saw Dan nosying around your office yesterday, I think he’s up to no good.
It’s important to note that this form of the word isn’t recognized by all dictionaries, but is still commonly used.
What about if you wanted to use the word ‘nosy’ as an adverb? Again, easy! Take the root of the word and add your suffix. For example:
She nosily asked me how much money I earn.
Finally, you can also use the word ‘nosy’ as a noun. What do you call the characteristic that makes someone nosy? Nosiness.
Anne is always up in everyone else’s affairs. I’ve never seen such nosiness in my life.
So to summarize, ‘nosy’ is an adjective that derives from the noun ‘nose’, and can be spelled one of two ways: ‘nosey’ or ‘nosy’. The choice is yours!
We hope by now you feel more confident around the usage of the word ‘nosy’, as well as its spelling.
How about you - do you have any nosy tendencies? Let us know in the comments and show us how you use ‘nosy’ in a sentence.