In defense of y’all

I mentioned on twitter yesterday (find me at @GrammarParty for tweets about grammar and cats and nerd stuff) that I’m going to start saying y’all more often. And I got some good-natured ribbing about it. “It’s my heritage,” I cried in defense via tweet.

I grew up in Appalachia, and though y’all is more often used in the southern parts of the United States, I did hear it as a child. Now living Minneapolis, which is more “civilized” and devoid of cows and other livestock, saying y’all makes me feel homey, almost like I can smell the manure on the cornfield by my old house every time I say it. (Apparently when one is homesick, even manure can bring good memories.) So I’m going to continue to say it. And that’s okay.

In case you were wondering, y’all is a legitimate word in the same way that ain’t is a word. People say it, so it’s a word. They’re both perfectly fine to use in conversation. I just wouldn’t encourage using it on a college admission essay, lest the mighty academics judge you to be unedjeecated.

But why I ask, dear readers, does y’all have a bad reputation? It’s simply a contraction of you all. While that may be redundant, is it any different, I ask, than the you guys I hear so frequently in the north? Or you lot, which people say in England? Y’all just gets bound up with all these bad stereotypes of the kind of people we envision saying it. Well, this y’all sayer does not wear jean overalls and does not have a piece of hay sticking out of her mouth. But if she did, that would be okay, too.

How to use y’all
Now that I’ve obviously convinced you that it’s okay to say y’all, let’s look at how to use it correctly.

Y’all is spelled like that. It’s not ya’ll. The apostrophe goes after the Y. Perhaps people get confused with the contraction for we will, which is we’ll, and thus misplace the apostrophe in y’all.

Also, there is some debate about whether y’all can be singular. The majority of authorities I checked seem inclined to say it is only plural. I agree. Since it’s a contraction of you all, the all lends itself to meaning more than one person.

Y’all revolution
If you’re feeling a bit feisty today, and are up for a debate, I encourage you to drop a y’all in conversation and gauge the listener’s response. If the listener thinks you’re silly for saying that, then ask why. If more than one person is in your group, perhaps say, “What’s so wrong with y’all, y’all?” You may find it will spark a lively conversation about words and stereotypes—and maybe, by the time y’all are finished, we’ll have world peace.

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6 thoughts on “In defense of y’all

  1. I’m a South Louisianian living for the last 16 years in Colorado. I tried to drop “y’all” when I first moved out here, but a few years ago, I started using it again. South Louisiana has a strong French influence, and I’m used to hearing “y’all” used in the same way as “vous,” the French plural of you. I don’t think English has a better equivalent of “vous” than “y’all.” I want people to know I’m referring to more than one person, and “you” is unclear and “you guys” is two syllables and to some women out here, insulting.

  2. Y’all works for me. I imagined it as a time-saving term, an efficient transposition of ‘all of you’ and an example of how the mother tongue morphed into all sorts of varietals, sorta like flowers. It would be an interesting etymological study to see how it came into being, and why it seems to be equated with issues of class (dare we say that word?) education and good manners and baby pageants. Is it a uniquely American south term? I confess to using y’all on occasion because it IS the only word that works. Hey everybody! is too many syllables. Same with hey everyone. Specially when the weather gets hot. I recognize that makes me guilty of cultural appropriation. Hope y’all will forgive me. 😉

    • Marti, I think it’s more of a super-plural. In other words, to me “y’all” is plural as noted above, but “all y’all” is used to make clear that your comment applies to *every* person in the group.
      PS – After 7 years in OK during college/law school, I LOVE using “all y’all,” too!

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