Y RNAs constitute a family of highly conserved small noncoding RNAs (in humans: 83-112 nt; Y1, Y3, Y4 and Y5). They are transcribed from individual genes by RNA-polymerase III and fold into conserved stem-loop-structures. Although discovered 30 years ago, insights into the cellular and physiological role of Y RNAs remains incomplete. In this review, we will discuss knowledge on the structural properties, associated proteins and discuss proposed functions of Y RNAs. We suggest Y RNAs to be an integral part of ribonucleoprotein networks within cells and could therefore have substantial influence on many different cellular processes. Putative functions of Y RNAs include small RNA quality control, DNA replication, regulation of the cellular stress response and proliferation. This suggests Y RNAs as essential regulators of cell fate and indicates future avenues of research, which will provide novel insights into the role of small noncoding RNAs in gene expression.