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Y’all

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  • Y’all, which originates in the U.S. and is common in many regions of the country, is a contraction of you and all. Although the word is generally considered out of place in formal writing, writers from regions that use the contraction sometimes use it in writing to affect a folksy or very informal tone. It also tends to appear in quoted speech and interviews.

    Although y’all is considered informal, it is not a substandard word, nor is it a sign of illiteracy or poor education. In some parts of the U.S., many people from all sorts of backgrounds use the word. Every part of the English-speaking world has its idiosyncrasies, and there’s no reason to look down on this one more than any other.

    There are reportedly parts of the U.S. where y’all now works as a singular pronoun—e.g., when alone with his or her spouse, a person from one of these areas might say, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m getting hungry. But even though this is an American blog, we’ve not personally encountered the singular y’all and have had trouble finding examples online. We welcome comments from anyone familiar with this phenomenon.

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    If you do use y’all, make sure the apostrophe comes after the y. Ya’ll is a common misspelling. And when quoting speech, don’t be afraid to use y’all when that’s what the speaker says. There’s no need to turn it into you all.

    Examples

    Anyway, apologies for the preamble, but since I’m filling in here for one week only, I wanted y’all to know where my head is at, Raising Hope-wise. [AV Club]

    It’s the final episode of Gods of the Arena, y’all! [Houston Chronicle Tubular blog]

    I am sure y’all were breathlessly awaiting the election results out of Estonia this weekend. [Dallas Morning News blog]

    However, we know that y’all are also Buckeye fans, and Buckeye fans always keep up with their own. [Land-Grand Holy Land]

    Y’all knew it was just a matter of time before I had to write about Honey Boo Boo Child. [Bellingham Herald]

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    Comments

    1. I occasionally run into the singular y’all in speech and have said it myself on occasion, but it’s pretty rare, and I can’t think of a reason for using it that way. I’m a college grad, copy editor, and stickler for grammar, but I grew up in Texas and ain’t ever giving up “y’all.” There are several similar Southern-isms that don’t make sense on the surface but seem to fit certain situations and speakers perfectly. “Let’s have a sit” is another one I like.

    2. The fourth paragraph reminds readers to make sure the apostrophe comes after the y in “y’all,” but the first sentence in the third paragraph spells it (incorrectly) as “ya’ll.” Tsk, tsk!

      That said, when I moved to Tennessee and first encountered people using the term “y’all” for “you” in everyday conversation, I asked my college roommate about it. She enlightened me that when she was speaking to one person, she used “y’all,” but when she was speaking to many people, she used “all y’all.”

      • Grammarist says:

        Thanks for catching that typo.

      • Velvet Android says:

        I love that bizarre yet somehow logical last bit — after all, if “y’all” has come to the point where it can be used for one person, how do you denote multiple people with it? Answer, of course: “all y’all” — hilarious :)

        • “Y’all” should never be used to refer to one person. It is “you all” after all. “All y’all” is the equivalent of “all of you” and is used when you want to be very clear that your statement applies to the collective “you.” As in, “I want all y’all to sit down and shut up.”

      • Dan Batey says:

        Native Tennessean here. She enlightened you to her misunderstanding. Y’all is always plural, even if you are the only one being addressed. In that case, the speaker is referring to you and others of your group not present. Literal-minded visitors do not get this inclusive nuance, and think they are being personally called y’all.

        “All y’all” could be called a plural intensive: “ALL y’all can kiss my . . .”

    3. Working with contacts between the oil industry and rural ranching in West Texas back in the 1980s put me in contact with a lot of language that doesn’t make it to the Internet, much less to edited publications or dictionaries. So I can confirm that both the singular “y’all” and the plural “all y’all” exist outside of Tennessee!

    4. Growing up in Texas hearing “y’all” frequently, I was surprised to hear other extremely popular variants when we lived in Missouri: “yoursall” and “you’uns”

    5. Being a stiff upper lipped British gentleman, in travels around the Great sates of America, have come across many sayings. It is very clear to me and in conversations with ‘natives’ from all States south of Canada, that y’all or ya’all is reflective to the ear on how the part is being spoken.
      The meaning remains the same as in you, anyone with you, anyone like you, is being referenced as this is a ubiquitous form of address.
      There is no confusion, should be no confusion and furthermore both spellings are as equal, and free and uniform in daily language communications.

    6. While playing the grammar game on QuizUp, I had this question: For which form of the personal pronoun is the word “y’all” a substitute? Choices were second person plural, first person plural, second person singular, third person plural. I was torn between two answers, but the game said it was something else. What are your thoughts?

    7. I’m as Southern as anyone. I was born and raised in Georgia and have degrees from Auburn and Tulane. I have never used the term y’all when speaking to one person unless I was referring to that singular person in addition to others, such as their friends or family etc. I have a 90 year old grandmother and have never heard her use the term that way either. She does use many English phrases that I have yet to determine their source in the family tree, but not this term.

    8. Having grown up in remote, rural, far downstate Illinois, the use of you, y’all, and all y’all was pretty fluid, and I don’t think there were issues in determining meaning from context. “You” is more common for second person singular, but “y’all” wasn’t uncommon but the use seemed a little more distinct. I would say to someone “You dropped your keys,” but then “Y’all need to keep better track of your keys.” There’s an abstract notion in the second sentence that’s not in the first that “y’all” seems to address: yes, you do of course need to keep track of your keys but generally everyone also needs to keep track of their keys”. Not scientific, but that’s my sense that my family and I have about it (we may be rural, but we’re a nerdy bunch). “Y’all” seems right for two or three people that you know that you are addressing together but “all y’all” feels better to me than just “y’all” for larger groups, multiple people I don’t know, or smaller groups where not everyone is present.

    9. Travis Sullivan says:

      I have several friends who use the singular y’all. Basically, they’ve just cut you out of their vocabulary completely. South and north Alabama. Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Mobile are the three regions I have encountered it while growing up there.

      I also had a friend who I thought was using it as a singular form, but then he refereed to himself as we, and I couldn’t really tell if he was just out of it or that was just how he spoke. (College educated, business degree of something or another, so he wasn’t dumb, but he just seemed to have built that habit from childhood.)

    10. Rebecca Dyson says:

      I’m from Southeast Virginia and I’ve used y’all and all y’all for my entire life!

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