Definition of cay in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /kā/
Pronunciation: /kē/


A low bank or reef of coral, rock, or sand. Compare with key2.
Example sentences
  • Nansha is contested by PRC, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines and comprises 104 islands, reefs, cays and banks.
  • Parola Island and the Lawak, Panata and Rizal Reefs are among a group of islands, reefs and cays claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys.
  • Heron is a tiny Barrier Reef coral cay, of only 17 hectares, in the Capricornia Group of islands of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.


Late 17th century: from Spanish cayo 'shoal, reef', from French quai 'quay'.

  • quay from Late Middle English:

    One of those words that seems designed to trip up poor spellers, this word was originally spelt as it is pronounced, key. It comes from Old French kay, of Celtic origin. The change of spelling occurred in the late 17th century, influenced by the modern French spelling quai. Cay or key for a sand bar is the same word.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: cay

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.