Abstract The effects of lithium doped yttria were investigated in an attempt to improve luminescent properties of nanosized Y 2O 3:Eu phosphors synthesized by glycin combustion method. The structure and morphology were characterized by using X-ray diffraction (XRD) and transmission electron microscope (TEM). The relationship between structures and optical properties is studied, i.e. Li + ions doping effectively enhanced the luminescent properties of Y 2O 3:Eu nanoparticles and did not change the cubic phase of the host. Improved spherical morphology was also benefitted from the Li + dopant. The highest emission intensity was observed with Eu 0.20Y 1.70Li 0.10O 3− δ .