As with many languages, when learning how to spell in English, it can be challenging to learn the rules for suffixes. For example, you’ll often see more than one spelling for a word, such as “nosey” and “nosy.” So, which is correct: “nosey” or “nosy”?
“Nosy” is the most common form in both American English or British English, but “nosey” is still correct, though less common. When a word ends on a silent “e,” we generally drop the “e” before adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, but we keep it when adding one with a consonant.
For those new to the English language, this might seem a little bit confusing. After all, why do two different spellings exist for the same word? But, as we’ll explain, part of the confusion stems over whether “y” is a vowel or a consonant.
This article will ease your curiosity and begin with the proper use of “nosy,” how both spellings came about, and some examples of using the word in everyday English conversation. By the end, you should be able to use the adjective “nosy” confidently and correctly.
Nosey vs. Nosy
When using either spelling, the most important thing to remember is that the adjective “nosy” carries a negative connotation involving someone’s inordinate curiosity.
The adjective describes someone who wants to know something about a matter that does not concern them. However, that person still acts on that curiosity anyway despite being rude and uncouth (source).
Nosey or Nosy Correct Spelling
Since Merriam-Webster lists “nosy” ahead of the alternative spelling “nosey,” you’ll find that most individuals will find “nosy” the most acceptable option. Academic style guides will generally recommend that you go with the first option in Merriam-Webster, but you might still see “nosey.”
“Nosy” is a combination of the noun “nose” with the adjective suffix -y, which means “full of” or “having the quality of” (source). So this could mean having the quality of a prominent nose or characteristically placing your nose into something.
Silent-e and the Adjective Y-Suffix
At this point, you might think that “nosey” would be the obvious and correct spelling, but, instead, we normally drop the “e” before adding a vowel suffix when the “e” is silent (source). The most common vowels are “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” and “u,” but sometimes people forget that “y” is sometimes a vowel.
If “y” functioned as a consonant in this situation, the spelling “nosey” would make sense. However, “y” typically functions like a consonant only at the beginning of words or syllables, as in “yes,” “year,” or “lawyer” (source).
While you can point to a word such as “monkey” that uses the spelling “ey,” it’s important to note that “monkey” is a noun, and we’re forming an adjective from a noun — two very different things.
Still, you will typically find similar examples with alternative spelling like “lacy” and “lacey,” “flaky” and “flakey,” and “dopy” and “dopey.” However, sometimes the “ey” spelling becomes more common, as is the case with “dopey.”
It is essential to remember that “nosy” implies curiosity in a matter that is not your concern. For this reason, it is not correct to call someone “nosy” if the matter that begets that person’s curiosity directly concerns them. Below are examples of some incorrect uses of the word:
Example 1: The medical doctor was very nosy about the symptoms of his patient.
This sentence is not correct because, even though the doctor expressed curiosity and wanted to know more information, it is the doctor’s responsibility to acquire this information. The act, in other words, is not uncouth or unwarranted.
Example 2: Her mother was being very nosy about the school’s new guidelines on wearing uniforms.
This usage is also incorrect. Although the mother in the example does not require the information, she is curious. We would not regard her curiosity as excessive because the matter pertains to her child, a student at the school, and concerns over the new uniform policy. As you can see, she has a right to that information.
Again, to correctly use the word “nosy,” you must remember that the person needs to be unduly curious. Unlike the examples with the doctor and the mother, the person does not have a good reason to seek out certain information, but they do it anyway.
Example 1: In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” chapter one, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was always very nosy about Bilbo Baggins’s wealth and possessions. Be it because of envy or cynicism, she always wanted to find out where the wealth of her cousin came from.
In this example, using the word “nosy” is justified because Lobelia does not have a good reason to acquire information about why her cousin is so wealthy. That information does not pertain to her, it does not involve her, and it is very uncouth of her to try to figure it out when it does not affect her at all.
We generally use “nosy” to show disappointment or disapproval, as in the following example.
Example 2: My nosy mother-in-law told my wife that we shouldn’t go through with our trip because she assumed it would be too expensive.
In this example, we do not actually know how interested or prying the mother-in-law was. However, we can still say she is “nosy” because she demonstrated her disapproval of the trip.
The husband felt his mother-in-law’s involvement in the matter was unwarranted since she was not the one paying for the trip. In addition, she might not have an accurate picture of the couple’s financial situation.
Why Is It Called Being Nosey?
One of the earliest examples of the term comes from Middle English nāsẹ̄, which was an Anglo-French word meaning “big-nosed” (source).
In the 1600s, the word shifted to Early Modern English “nosy” to describe someone with a large nose. When Thomas Shelton first translated the classic Don Quixote into the English language in the early 1600s, the term emerged for the first time in recorded literature (source).
In fact, it was not until the late 1800s that the word took on the “unduly inquisitive” or “busy-body” connotation that we are now familiar with.
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary does not list the adjective “nosy,” but it does refer to putting one’s nose into the affairs of others (source).
One of the earlier uses for the adjective “nosy” with this particular meaning appears in Robert Montgomery’s satire The Age Reviewed, released in 1828, where one scene refers to the “nosy gabble” spread to boys and girls (source).
What Is a Nosy Person Called?
One of the expressions that emerged from this usage of “nosy” to refer to a meddlesome person is the phrase “nosey parker.” This idiomatic expression functions as a noun to indicate an unduly inquisitive person (source).
For example, based on our previous discussion on Lobelia, we can refer to her as a nosy parker because of her uncouth prying into her cousin Bilbo’s affairs. However, in one of the later examples, it was Bilbo himself who was the nosy parker.
The word “nosy” makes sense in this expression, but what does the word “parker” have to do with being nosy? In the English language, you will find that it is common to associate specific names with an adjective that pertains to a human characteristic. For instance, you may have come across the expressions “Sensitive Sally,” “Happy Larry,” and “Chatty Cathy” before.
The particular choice of names for those characteristics is obvious since both words either start with the same letter or end with the same letter. However, we cannot say the same for this phrase, so where did the expression “nosy parker” come from?
The Popular Story
The way the popular story has it, “nosy parker” emerged as just a bit of banter towards Matthew Parker, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575.
Matthew Parker became archbishop following the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, and his tenure saw conflict between the Church of England and the Puritans (source).
He also played a key role in producing and promoting the Bishops’ Bible, which was an attempt to fix the highly inaccurate Great Bible of 1539 and compete with the Geneva Bible, favored by the Calvinist Presbyterians and Puritans.
According to legend, the archbishop ordered several questionable inquiries to account for his clergymen’s qualifications. People found this to be unnecessary or nosy, and the orders were a very unpopular action.
The story continues that since this particular archbishop had a very prominent nose, this is where the expression “nosy parker” comes from.
However, there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim, and we already know that Middle English “nāsẹ̄” was present by the mid-14th century. Also, “nosy” does not seem to carry the sense of “unduly curious” until the early 19th century.
Archbishop Matthew Parker was undoubtedly unpopular in Puritan and Presbyterian circles, however, and the memory of this religious tension lived on. As a result, it’s possible that someone retroactively affixed his name to this pejorative statement.
Nosy Park Keepers?
The surname “Parker” comes from the occupation of park custodian or gamekeeper. Their role as park keepers placed them in a position to spy on important officials and couples.
The term does not actually appear in literature until the 1890s when the Victorian-era novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon first used the expression “nosey parker” when she edited the Belgravia Magazine.
When someone wants to obtain information even though that information does not concern that person, it is usually because of the urge to gossip. Another word that we might use for someone who is nosy and craves gossip is a “gossipmonger.”
Just like a nosy parker, a gossipmonger attempts to obtain information that they believe is interesting even though it pertains to other people’s lives. However, gossipmongers are far more likely to spread that information.
Nosy as a Verb or Adverb
In addition to using “nosy” as an adjective, you might see someone modify it to function as a verb or adverb. In these cases, were add the verb suffix or adverb suffix to “nosy” as the base word.
Present Participle Nosying (Chiefly British)
It’s important to note that “nosying” is a chiefly British derivative. Most dictionaries only list “nosy” as an adjective, although Lexico, powered by Oxford, lists verb forms such as “nosying” (source).
Example: Theo accidentally found the ring as he was nosying about Ken’s house. Even though Theo was known for his good manners, this was not one of his finer moments.
Notice how, this time, we ended the word “nosy” with the suffix -ing, treating “nosy” as a verb. In this case, we added -ing to form the present participle. The spelling rules for adding the suffix -ing allow us to attach it without altering the verb form “nosy.”
Similarly, we can modify “nosy” to function as the adverb “nosily.” However, as you can see, the spelling rules for adding the adverb suffix -ly require us to drop the “y” and insert “i.”
Example: The neighbors noticed that Dan had purchased a considerably more expensive vehicle than his old vehicle. The neighbors nosily assumed Dan obtained the funds for the vehicle through ill-gotten means. The article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Whenever we describe a verb, an adjective, or an adverb — we can use the adverb variation “nosily” to describe the way someone does something.
When confronted with more than one spelling for a word, generally, your best option is to choose the spelling variant that comes first in the dictionary. Such is the case for “nosy” vs. “nosey,” where “nosy” is the most common spelling.
It’s also preferable since it follows the spelling rules for adding the adjective suffix -y to a word ending with a silent “e.” Since the suffix is a vowel, we simply drop the “e” before adding the suffix.