Y'all shouldn't feel bad about using "y'all"

I lived in Birmingham, Ala., for two years right out of college. While I was there, I became convinced that y'all is a reasonable and necessary word — a simple form of the plural "you" for a language that has no vosotros. Don't like "y'all" on principle? That's okay. There's a large diversity of grammatically-awkward-but-conversationally-necessary plural yous for English — a fact which makes me even more convinced that I'm right. Sometimes, y'all need a y'all. (Via mental_floss — ironically, the reason I was in Birmingham, to begin with — and Matthew Francis)


  1. Problem is, I have been told — emphatically — that “y’all” is ***SINGULAR***, and that the proper plural is “all y’all”.

    This may be regional variation. Which is the problem with regionalisms; by definition they aren’t as well standardized.

        1. I fail to see how taking 2 words and condensing down to 1 is devolution. Language naturally evolves to become more efficient and less ambiguous. [studies that I don’t have time to look up at the moment]

      1.  Devolves?  I just don’t want to hear all y’all try to say ‘foyer’ (hint, there is no ‘r’ sound in there.

    1. Y’all is plural, of course. I think “all y’all” means a great plurality, but I never really heard it as a kid growing up in Texas.
      Personally I find that as awkward as “yous guys,” or whatever they say in the northeast.

      1.  In Southern vernacular, “all y’all” is used to address a large group, whereas “y’all” can be used when talking about a smaller group.

        It’s fluid.

          1. That’s my understanding of the usage. “Y’all” is always plural, but “all y’all” is used to clarify that you are addressing an entire group instead of a subset of the group.

            I have lived in GA for … holy shit … 29 years now, and I have never heard “y’all” used in the singular. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but it’s not in my vernacular. I usually assume that “y’all” being singular and “all y’all” being plural is just a joke that Southerners play on Yankees.

      2.  “Y’all” means the group you are addressing directly. “All y’all” means the group you are addressing, and all others like them.

        Adult talking to group of teenagers playing music too loudly: “Y’all turn that damn music down! All y’all are going to be deaf before you’re thirty.” The first is addressed to the teenagers at hand, the second is a reference to all teenagers.

    2. Spent about a decade in The South and never heard “y’all” used in any way but to refer to two or more people. Can only speak of the regions I lived in of course.

      1. Relatives of mine (from Arkansas) have stopped using “you” altogether and use “Y’all” solely, meaning both singular and plural.

          1. Ditto that. Central Alabama here, and I’ve never heard a singular y’all except in movies about Southerners. As pointed out elsewhere, it’s a contraction for “you all.” But I do frequently hear “all y’all,” meaning everyone in earshot.

        1. In fact, most English speakers already long ago stopped using the second person singular, “thou”, and only use the plural “you”, for both singular and plural applications.

    3. I would agree with mark zero, y’all is inherently plural and “all y’all” means a greater plurality (i.e. “y’all go over there, y’all come over here, all y’all call once yer done”). I have used y’all to greet one person (“y’all have a nice day, ma’am”), which I refer to as the “royal y’all”.

      1. I amend my previous statement about never having heard “y’all” used in the singular. But in that case, I think it is usually specifically being used in a common phrase, such as, “Y’all come back now, y’hear?” That phrase is so iconic that it would be said the same way whether one was referring to a single person or a group. I still can’t remember anybody referring to me as “Y’all” when I was alone.

        1.  It caaaan be used in a way that sounds like the singular, but usually it really means a group that person is a part of.  “Y’all doing okay?” isn’t addressing one person – it’s a group they’re a part of: family, school, church, whatever.

          1. Exactly this. I think this is where Yankees get confused. They don’t realize that “y’all” can be used to refer to an implied group.

            Like, customer comes into a store, shopkeeper says “Hey, Mary. How are y’all doing?” Shopkeeper isn’t referring to Mary herself as “y’all” — he’s asking after Mary’s whole family. Both of them know he also knows her husband and kids, so they both understand that “y’all” refers to her family. She’ll respond with something like “Oh, we’re doing fine. Jimmy just got his license, so be careful on the road!”

            Source: Born and lived all my life in North Carolina.

    4. Absolutely. All the born and bred southerners I’ve known (NC, GA, TN, AL, plus TX) have always emphasized that “y’all” is singular. Was in Baton Rouge, at a restaurant, talking to the coat-check clerk, and she said “y’all” when she was talking to me alone.

      1. I’ve lived in Alabama my entire life and have never heard anyone use “y’all” as a singular pronoun. Y’all is always used to address 2 or more individuals.

      2. Maybe they just used it wrong?

        I’m enjoying reading these anecdotes  but one thing nobody is factoring in is that some people might use colloquialisms incorrectly.

      3. Weird. Because I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, my family has lived in Texas since Texas wasn’t a State, and I’ve never once heard it used as a singular. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that it strikes me as… unusual.

        Growing up I was always strongly discouraged from using y’all though. I gave it some thought later in my teens and realized it makes perfect sense. If we want to get rid of it, we should bring back thou and allow you to be used as the plural. This worked very nicely for English previously.

    5.  Every y’aller I’ve known has emphatically asserted that “y’all” was plural, and that people tend to only use it for singular when they aren’t from the south, and are affecting a fakey joke “southern accent.”

  2. “Y’all,” which is a contraction of “you all,” is indeed a wonderful way to employ a plural pronoun. What drives me bonkers is when 1) writers who don’t know how to use the word employ it in dialogue as a singular pronoun and 2) all the people who think it’s spelled “ya’ll” because they’re unaware of how contractions work.

    1.  youse, is very common in scotland.  though nobody would write ti down or consider it ‘correct’ it fills the gap.   (anyone who points me towards scots wikipedia loses this discussion by default, call it a McGodwin’s law)

    1. This house needs cleaned! Yinz better red up your rooms by the time I’m back from buying gum bands n’at at the drug store. There’s an Eat-n-Park Smiley Cookie in it for ya if you get it done!

    1. Around here (Ireland) I hear (and use) youse’uns quite a lot. I particularly like youse’uns’ve.  As in “Youse’uns’ve got enough beer, so youse have, haven’t youse?”

      1. Certainly the speaker has had enough.  Any more and that sentence would come out splattered all over one’s waistcoat.

      2.  “Ye” and “yis” also work. Although I know some people who think “ye” is too culchie, but fuck them, I’m from the countryside. And so are they, the self-hating culchies.

    2.  No – it’s much more limited than “North of the Mason Dixon”, mostly just a NYC-ism (including some dialects from surrounding areas such as parts of northern New Jersey.”  Philadelphia uses “you guys”, and east of the Mason Dixon, Delaware tends to follow Philadelphia dialects in the north and Eastern Shore Tidewater in the south.

  3. The map isn’t really right; I grew up in Maryland (DC suburbs) and we used “you all”.  The only time I’ve ever heard anyone use “y’all” as singular the person was doing a poor imitation of a Southerner.  And then of course there’s “youse” or “youse guys”, which I heard a lot from people from Jersey, parts of  PA and NY.

    1. DC suburbs aren’t Maryland and they aren’t Virginia, they’re the DC suburbs.  At least linguistically (and culturally) I’ve always felt they’re different from the states that they’re technically in – there’s a lot more difference between Southwest VA and Northern VA than between Southern MD and Northern VA, in my opinion.

          1. I lived in central New Jersey for a while, mainly Monmouth County.  Most of the people there were transplants, but the old-family white neighborhoods talked like a less exaggerated North Jersey dialect or a more Italian dialect, and the older black neighborhoods had a mostly Southern dialect.  My church sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family a few years after the war ended, and they first stayed with a family from rural south Georgia, then moved to a black neighborhood, so the kids had fairly strong Southern accents.

  4. Y’all, you-all, you-guys, yous— I don’t really care how you say it, English needs a distinct second-person plural. It clarifies the target audience without violating English syntax. What’s wrong with that?

      1. Of course we do have: thou.  But I don’t wanna be the only one to make the move back to it.  Thou first.

        1. Unfortunately thou hit the nail on the head. In order to revive a word, many people must use it. Sadly, it seems that we have voted down the second-person singular only to realize that it made things REALLY confusing.

  5. Y’all is a fabulous word— I lived in Georgia for college and was a total anti-y’all snob before then, and now I say it all the time, especially now that I have a lot of non-binary people in my group. It’s really nice to have a gender neutral collective pronoun that differs from the singular!

    1. I was an anti-y’all snob back in my teenage years in Arlington, TX.  In addition to avoiding “y’all,” I (briefly) affected a New York accent.  The thing is I can easily imagine using (and maybe people do say) “y’all” with the NY accent though it would sound closer to “yull” or “yole.”

      1. I was raised in NY but Pop’s side of the family is from Kentucky. I totally say “y’all” constantly, and always with a NY accent. 

      2.  for an example of a native New Yorker using the word “y’all,” you could always consult the lyrics of, oh…  *every* NY rapper *ever.*

        1. A Brooklyn Native New Yorker here: I’ve heard, for an audience of two, “Youse-boat”.  Also, “da tree, faw, five… a youse”.

    1.  Lookit. I ain’t got a problem as long as you guys have a sack in which to put my pop. And I don’t mean my dad.

      1. Yo, in Philly, you’d say “you guys”, but soda wasn’t called pop by anybody.  (Ok, I actually lived in Delaware, but we got Philly TV.)

        And in Hawaii (at least, Maui in the 1970s, when they spoke more pidgin than they do now but less than their parents did), they’d say “you guys” in second person, and also “[somebody’s name] guys” as a third-person reference to the people who hung out with that person, and “guys” was gender-nonspecific in that context.

        1.  Well, technically, I’m using the Kansas “you guys” that was prevalent in the 70’s, and is still used somewhat today.

          And our river is the Ar-KAN-sas.

  6. I was born in Birmingham and live in Ohio now. When I moved north, I remember the moment when I recognized that the Ohio substitute for y’all was you guys. I use you guys up here, but revert to y’all when I go back home. 

          1. Huh.  I always figured that a shouted “HEY YOU GUYS!!” would totally be from The Electric Company.  What a difference a half-generation makes.

  7. The interesting thing I’ve observed about “y’all” is that it’s used all over the country but spoken much more quickly than in the South. This seemed to be especially true in southern California.

    I don’t see anything wrong with it but I’ll admit when I travel internationally I often switch to “you guys” which makes a lot less sense in mixed gender company but seems to be better understood and draws less attention to itself.

  8. i was born and raised in louisiana and even though i now live in texas, at the ripe old age of 34 i use the word “y’all” at least once a day in verbal and written forms. it’s just part of who i am!

  9. actually, ustedes is a third person plural used to politely address a second person plural crowd… “vosotros”, although never used, would be y’all. You are actually looking for an equivalent of the word “vous’ in french… which by the way is often used to politely address someone who is a second person singular… so yeah, whather .

    1. Depends where you are. In Spain, you are right, but here in South America, ustedes is the only form we use. No distinction for polite/informal here. 

    2. French has the verbs tutoyer and vouvoyer to describe the action of using the informal or formal address.

  10. The funny thing here is that “you” is actually the plural form already. It’s the singular form, thou, that we lost in English. 

    1. Sidest with thou in this regard I dost; anon I find a sweetness utility hath unrivalled by much art.

      1. It should be “with thee”, not “with thou”. “Thou” is the subject pronoun, “thee” the object pronoun.
        And “sidest” would be the conjugation for “thou” (I side, thou sidest, he/she sideth, etc.). 

  11. The real problem isn’t that we lack Ustedes, it’s that we lack vosotros.

    Also, I’m surprised that “everybody” isn’t on the list, as in, “Everybody please go outside now, the bar is closed.”

    1. Ha, when I was taking Spanish as a wee lad in Virginia I used to refer to the vosotros tense as “spanish y’all”.

  12. One problem is that English got rid of words like thou and ye.  The whole formal/informal and singular/plural distinctions that we lack are mainly due to the fact that we dropped everything but “you” over time.  It became a catch-all term.

  13. Woah der… y’all got nuthin’ on da Freshwodder Noofie (Bruce penninsula and Manitoulin island) Drawl us folk up heere got! Gets a bit wonky when you figger all da Briddish wurds we use, and da spellins all messed up too, eh? I mean, geeze, y’all may got some funky dialeks doon der but ya just can’t match da ling-wistic shennanigans we get to muddle wit up ‘ere in da Grate Whyte Nort!

  14. The eighteenth century has a lot to answer for. What could they have been thinking? Up until then, English had a perfectly good set of second-person pronouns: thou, thee (singular subjective and objective); ye, you (plural subjective and objective). They dumped all but one of them.

    They also gave us the necktie and cursive handwriting, two of the most useless frills in the history of frills. 

    1. I like to believe that it was a reaction to the rise of egalitarianism and a rejection of the aristocratism that was exemplified by the T-V distinction.

    2.  I never did like cursive, even way back when it was taught to me. Slightly quicker, but good grief my penmanship would become illegible after a paragraph or so.

      1. I gave up cursive in 12th grade; the teacher didn’t complain (in fact, remarked that my handwriting was clear) and I haven’t used it since except for my signature.  My cursive was worse than written prescriptions.

  15. I’m a little unclear about ‘ye’, at least as it is presented in the list. I had been informed that ‘you’ was historically the 2nd person plural subject form, ‘thou’ being the singular form of the same. ‘Thou’ got dropped at some point in favor of using the plural subject form for both plural and singular (as well as the plural object form, which I’m guessing would have been ‘ye’, while the single object form was ‘thee’).

    So maybe as ‘you’ was adopted for both singular forms (‘thou’ and ‘thee’), it got replaced by ‘ye’ for both plural forms in some parts of Ireland?

  16. “Y’all” is not the equivalent of ustedes (formal), it is the equivalent of osotros (informal). English already has a plural formal you form: “you.”

  17. I became convinced that y’all is missing from national usage after I lived in Austin for 2 years.

    The most common plural you that I hear in my circles is “you guys”.  But that just seems dopey.

    1. The younger folk in Austin are using “you guys”, as well as the hordes of newcomers, but definitely anyone older and has been in Texas a while uses “y’all”.  I use it, my wife uses it, my (Texan) coworkers all use it, but my kids, alas, don’t.  I don’t know how I failed as a parent…

  18. This reminds me of the little remembered word “amn’t”, a word contracting “am not”, which seems reasonably logical. I think I can dig up the original reference I came across it in, if anyone cares, but to paraphrase it, the usage was a 19th century woman asking “Amn’t I justified?” Always wished it was in common parlance.

    Also, “for lagniappe”. Picked that one up from Twain, who himself picked it up from New Orleans.

    1. Did you know that at one point “Aren’t” “Amn’t” and “Ain’t” were in a dead heat to see which one was the “right” one?  Don’t ever tell an elementary school teacher but “Ain’t” was once used used interchangably with “Aren’t” and was slightly more versatile (contraction for both Are Not and Am Not, it was originally just “an’t”) and is almost (as in within about fifteen years) as old.  Amn’t itself is slightly older, early 17th century.  Ah, rules that they try to drill into you that you finally realize are just arbitrary.  It’s only “correct” because the type of person who wrote dictionairies tended to use it.

        1. Nobody loves amn’t (except Eldritch above)–it just gets stuck on the way out.  There are multiple alternatives to some contraction cases: “You aren’t” works fairly interchangeably with “You’re not,” and the same can be said for “she isn’t” with “she’s not,” etc., but if for some reason you don’t want to use “I’m not,” you’re kinda stuck with “I amn’t,” and I expect I ain’t alone in preferring to say “I ain’t” rather than gumming up my elocution with “I amn’t.”

        2. Actually, it used to be the prefered English usage.

          And the reason it’s not correct is nothing more or less than because linguists who don’t use it, decided it wasn’t correct.

          1. Except that recognized contractions are actually contractions, and ain’t ain’t. There’s no justification for its use.

  19. Coupla two tree things:  Y’all can be further contracted.  Instead of using, “What are you all doing?”  We don’t say, ” What y’all doing?, we say, “Whachall doin’?  or locally, “Chall doin’?”  Similar contractions include:  “S’qweat” (Let’s go eat), and “Colder’n (Colder than).  Words such as “tote” are still used in some areas, though, for hitchhiking “carry” is more frequent as in “Kin you carry me over to town?”  And if someone at a store asks you “Djuwanna poke fir that?” they are asking if you need a bag. It goes without saying that “djuwanna” is “Do you want a?”  Reckon thas ’bout it if y’all ken allat.

    1. Yeah. Some people use fittin’ (as in, we fittin’ to go store ) because enunciating fixin’ is just too much work.

      1. Like how ‘free’ requires more energy than ‘three’ – and yet small british urchin children will favour ‘free’.

        Incidentally I found out recently that spelling is now taught to children via phonemes, because, you know, English is a really phonetically consistent language.  A teacher friend recently informed me that one of these urchins suggested ‘free’ and ‘three’ are homophones – and to them, they were.

        This troubles me.

        1. How does “free” require more energy than “three”?  Is there a reference for that?

          “Three” requires more fine motor control in terms of positioning the tongue relative to the lips and teeth.  “Free” doesn’t actually use the tongue at all, or only barely.  Go ahead and try it out.  “Free” is actually physically easier to pronounce.

          Maybe the best way to see the problem is to try to pronounce “three” without using your tongue at all. You’ll end up saying either “tree” or “free”.

          1. Now you’re making me question it. I’m now wondering if this was something grown ups used to say to stop us from doing it when we were young. But that was always the line.
            Although now I’m doing it it does feel like I’m using more muscles to say ‘free’. Supposed it also depends on how you say either of those words, as accents will also factor in.
            I’ll add it to my list of things to check.

          2.  As a foreign-speaker coming from a language with no “th” sound (Norwegian) I’ll say that “thr” is a nearly impossible consonant cluster. (“Fr” is common though.) I can only get around it by rolling the R.

  20. My Latin teacher always made us translate the second person plural as “y’all.” We’d actually lose points of tests for translating it “you” (if there weren’t other context clues to show we know it was plural).

    How about “y’alls” as in “y’alls better git outta here?”

      1. Well, yeah, for those of us of a certain age (even if we were Protestant or Jewish.)  It was a somewhat geeky thing to be taking back when I did so in junior high, and I don’t regret it. 

        A Catholic friend of mine of similar age was travelling in Northern Italy a few years back, where the dialects don’t resemble Rome at all, and he’d been talking with the bartender for a while when his wife pointed out that he wasn’t speaking Italian, but Latin.  So it’s not quite dead yet..

  21. What about ‘one’? As in, ‘One wouldn’t have considered that’. Sounds a bit Margaret Thatcher-ish, but it’s technically correct. In England, at least.

  22. Y’all homies be straight trippin, errybody needs to get with the program up in here

    Cuz its like that, ya heard…feel me?

    1. No we don’t. Certainly not in Ontario – at least I’ve never heard anyone say it in the 40+ years I’ve lived here. When we want to refer to a group of people we usually say “you”.

  23. “standard english” has been characterized as the last bastion of acceptable racism and classism in modern academia.

    The only thing that makes “standard english” the standard is that it happens to be the one the educated elites speak. Linguists and english professors essentially just decided that their version of english was more correct than other versions for essentially no more reason than that they were the ones that spoke it.

    All of the negatives people associate with varients like what you hear spoken in the sourthern states, the inner cities, etc. are pretty much just a mixture of racism and classism that folks just map back onto the varient. (ie. you learn that southerners are a bunch of stupid racist hicks by watchind old movies where folks who speak in southern accents are always at least one of those three things, and then associate the accent with the traits)

    1. I largely agree with you, but I think adding linguists to the group is a little unfair.  I know plenty of sociolinguists who make the very argument you are presenting.

    2. Friend of mine from Kentucky said “Of course we knew we had an accent; we didn’t sound lahk the folks on TV.”  (I forget if he grew up in a city, but he spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ farm in the summers.) 
      Also, grammar down there is much more complex than the stuff you learn in school; there are verb forms like “I’d been fixin’ to get around to doing ____”, which are a sort of pluperfect future optative mood.  (And if you’ve ever studied German, you’d know that the “never end a sentence with a preposition” rule is nonsense, because English is mainly Germanic with a Latin vocabulary overlay rather than the other way around, and verb-with-a-corresponding-preposition-at-the-sentence-end is a standard German construct.)

    3. I don’t agree. One of the main reasons that there is a “standard” form of a language is to forestall the natural tendency of languages to disintegrate into a welter of dialects that rapidly become mutually incomprehensible. Today, modern communication technology does a lot to prevent this from happening, but before we had the Internet, television, radio, or recorded sound, a defined standard was the only way to keep a language relatively unified. It doesn’t prevent local dialects from emerging, but it does act as enough of a brake on their development to keep them mutually comprehensible. 

  24. My biggest problem with “y’all” is just that I find myself hearing it as yawl and replying with “ketch”.

  25. >Y’all shouldn’t feel bad about using “y’all”

    implying I felt bad (`ー´)ヘヘーン

  26. Wouldn’t it be fun to go back to when english had a distinct a singular personal pronoun, thou, and you was only plurial. Thou wouldst be surprised how easy it is.

  27. I have lost a small amount of respect for all y’all.

    I totally agree though Maggie.. How am I supposed to do my southern hick impression without saying y’all?

  28. Well….”Y’all” works wonderfully with the fine, beautiful dialects of the American southlands. It sounds like Hell when I ply my worst Boston accent to it. Like scraping fingahnails on a blaackbowad.

    Up here, we’ll just have to stick with putting “wicked” in front of everything.

  29. All’a y’all’ll use “y’all all” at some point, but y’all all’ll sound funny ifen ya ain’t really from the South.

  30.  It’s nice to see y’all seeing some value in our Southern ways.  Now lets move this discussion on to sweet tea…

  31. Feeding the anecdote bottling plant we’ve got going on here:

    While I almost never use “y’all” in meatspace, I tend to throw it out here and there online. In one type of situation, I find myself using it to address one person, but refer to several. I’m thinking of when I play multiplayer Minecraft with several people. Sometimes I stay on very late, until only two of us are left, and I’ll say to the last other person something like “I’ll see y’all another time”. I’m speaking to only her (singular), but referring to her AND the others (plural). I don’t know how to rule that usage. I’m guessing plural?

  32. I’ve always used y’all. My mother was picky about grammar (in the typical school teacher way, like abhoring so-called split infinitives or never putting prepositions at the end of sentences), but she insisted that y’all was proper because of the need for second person plural. Odd woman.

  33. In conversation with a Yankee friend of mine about the word “y’all,” I used its possessive form, “y’all’s.” My friend asked about that immediately. I told him that “y’all” is a plural pronoun that takes the regular English possessive apostrophe-s ending. Nobody says “your all.” That would just be weird.

    (Then I had to look up why in the world English uses an apostrophe to form the possessive, because seriously, WTF. It turns out to be a long strange tale.)

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