This Is Important, Y’all

From no less a source than the Economist:

DISCUSSIONS of Texas often turn to an exploration of the American South’s most distinctive regional locution, “y’all.” The common view, among outsiders, is that insofar as “y’all” is from the region specified, it’s also a bit sub-literate and redneck.

That’s a bit snooty. The fact is that “y’all” is pretty useful, as formal English doesn’t have a distinctly plural version of “you.” There is no “yous” (except in places like New York city and New Jersey, sometimes in the form of “youse guys”). This suggests that the referent is usually clear enough in context. But the existence of “y’all,” the related “you-all” and “all-y’all,” and other workarounds like “you guys” and “you lot” show that there is, in fact, room in the market for new second-person plural pronouns. Visitors to Texas typically realize the value of “y’all” within 48 hours.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. My ancestors come from Kentucky where there is no “all-y’all”. There is the singular “you” and the plural “y’all”.

    I used to think that Texas’s “all-y’all” was redundant but they make distinctions of their own. “You” for singular. “Y’all” for two or three or sometimes four people. “All-y’all” for groups of more than that.

    I suspect that it’s the influence from the Spanish language.

    • The distinction among singular, dual, and plural goes back to proto-Indo-European. Standard English has faint traces of it, such as both vs. all, between vs. among, and each other vs. one another, but the rest have been lost in a few millennia of language evolution.

  2. I picked up y’all during my sojourn in Tennessee and haven’t been able to excise it from my vocabulary since. The need for a plural form of the pronoun “you” and the periodic need to express informality and familiarity in both social and professional settings renders the contra-canonic contraction indispensible.

    • Indeed, you might look at “you” vs “y’all” as the difference between “vous” and “tu”.

  3. 1.

    2. We yankees find the usage of “ya’ll” quite helpful too, even if we don’t use it ourselves. Not every Southerner will obviously wave the rebel flag. It’s great when you say “ya’ll” so we’ll know to be on our guard for incipient secessionism.

    • I don’t know about you, but I always find it constructive to assume the most negative stereotypes I can imagine when it comes to people are different from me…

      • I’ve actually been working really hard to re-educate myself with regard to my prejudices about Southerners. I’ve managed to get my initial gut reaction down from “dangerously stupid and prone to violence, may attempt to beat me to death with a cane on the floor of the Senate and then brag about it” to merely “probably roots for a SEC team and secretly harbors traitorous inclinations”.

  4. And there’s also “you’uns”, which is “y’all” plus three.

    (yeah, I ripped that off, so what?)

    To be honest, the real way to spot a Texan is to watch how short “e” becomes “ay-yuh”. “yes” is “yay-yus”, “pen” is “pay-yun”.

    Also “mmm-kay”, which my wife says all the time, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her actually say “y’all”.

  5. I’m going to have to use the original, because fishing don’t do it justice.

    I knew a guy in college who regularly used, “Fuck all ya’ll, ya fuckers.”

    I save this for special occasions, myself, but it really is one of the best ways to communicate that particular frame of mind.

  6. I tend to use “you all” (what I’m told is the unauthentic yankee equivalent of y’all, even though I’m not a yankee, I’m from Colorado originally) for pluralizing “you” but also for politeness.

    For some reason, if I’m in a large store talking to a worker, on the phone talking to a customer service agent, it seems more polite to say “do you all have any more napkins on sale?” or “do you all charge a fee for cash advances?” I guess I get this notion that it’s polite from having worked similar jobs, when customers said to me frequently “you charged me a fee” or “youare out of napkins.”

  7. “Youse” actually shows up in various dialects of northern England. I used to frown at it until I recalled that it’s built into other languages. French has tu/vous, Dutch has jou/jullie, German with du/ihr. It does indeed have some utility. Don’t you all agree? 😉

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