Monday, April 29, 2013

GrammatiCats: Y'all

Well, look.  I was sitting around trying to think of a good grammar topic to do for "Y" today. 

And I said to my cat, I said: "Kitty, what if we did 'your' and 'you're'?"

And she was like,

And I had to admit that it didn't sound like a terribly substantial topic. 

But then I thought, "Wait a minute - we DO know a Y-word that the world needs to understand!  Quickly, kitten - to the Hickmobile!"

Thus, we have arrived at "y'all."  Come!  Let me teach you the pronoun of my people.

Beer Score: 2

First of all: "y'all" is a contraction of "you all", so the apostrophe goes after the Y.  This is non-negotiable.

(There is no standard agreement on whether the possessive should be spelled "y'all's" or "y'alls", though.  I'm afraid you will just have to shoot from the proverbial hip on that one.) 

Secondly:  "y'all" is a plural pronoun.  This confuses many non-Southerners when they see it used to address one person.  For example, let's say you are at home and go to answer a knock at your door.  The person standing there may say,

In this case, he is referring not only to your own individual self, but also to other members of your household.  The same is implied in phrases such as "How y'all doing?":  the speaker is asking about you, and by extension, your family and friends. 

You hear this same thing used for stores and businesses.  When a customer says:

--she is talking about the whole store or company, as represented by the single employee.

This usage - namely, using "y'all" to refer to a set of multiple, possibly non-present people - means that "y'all" doesn't necessarily refer to everyone present.  Fortunately, we have a term that does.

Here, the speaker wishes to include everyone within earshot, so all y'all is the term of choice.

You also hear "y'all" used as a term of respect, even when you are very-definitely talking about one person.  If you see a lady trying without success to start her car, you might say, "Pardon me ma'am - do y'all need any help?" 

(Sorry I don't have a cat snap for that one.  "Respect" and "help" aren't really their strong points.)

You know how when a person is really high-up in the world (or thinks they are), they might refer to themselves using the "royal we"? 

This lady-in-the-car scenario is like that, only reversed: YOU think highly of HER, so you refer to her using the "royal y'all." 

Of course, given this little peculiarity, plus the plural-meaning/singular-addressee intricacies above, and the fact that Southerners don't exactly go to finishing school to learn the finer points of our bastard grammar, you do inevitably hear the rude, singular y'all.

Earl, y'all got two seconds to get out of my business 'fore I knock the dumb outta you.

Do not emulate this usage, gentle readers.  Y'all is by its very construction a plural pronoun, and we ought to make at least a token effort to keep it that way.

"Uh, don't worry," you might say.  "I think I'm just going to stick with 'you'.  I mean, it works for one person and multiple people, so technically you don't even need 'y'all', really..."

Further Reading:

From Y'All to Youse, Eight English Ways to Make 'You' Plural - with a handy map of usage!

Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!

1.  Shelter kitty!  Courtesy of Dr. C
2.  A boundary-challenged neighbor*, courtesy of Dr. C
3.  Another inquisitive neighbor, courtesy of Dr. C
4.  Bandi, courtesy of Frank the Magnificent
5.  Mr. Miyagi, likewise!
6.  Pete* and Pete, courtesy of my terrific sister
7.  Shelter kitty!  Courtesy of Dr. C

*honorary cat

(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat?  Sign up here!)


  1. I use y'all all the time and I'm from the North.

    1. Dude, I had no idea it was a thing up there! Hot damn - now I'm REALLY not ashamed to use it!

  2. I live in Memphis where we'all say, "Y'all."

    1. I am so glad to hear it! I don't know anything about Memphis, but I know that's where Faulkner set his last book, and I've always thought of it as a fantastic big-city place where jalopies run rampant and anything can happen. Way to keep up the proud "y'all" tradition!

  3. I'm not a fan of "y'all". It's not that I don't like contractions. I just think I've heard it far too much on Maury (and other such television programmes) that I find it irritating. The English equivalent is "yous" which I hate just as much. "What are yous doing?" "Yous coming?" Gah!!

    1. Hahaha, I still remember when my high school Spanish teacher first moved here from Mexico. Her son came home from his first day at his new school, and when she asked him how it was, he all but bawled. "Mom, I can't understand anything they're saying - it's all gobble-gobble-gobble turkey talk!"

      ... I guess what I'm saying is, the "y'all" (and "youse", and "youz-guys" and others) is probably emblematic of a much bigger issue. Maury DEFINITELY is.

  4. I am also from the North and sometimes use "y'all" :) I only stick to the whole "plural" usage, though. No singular or "Royal" shenanigans lol

  5. It positively makes my teeth ache when someone writes ya'll meaning y'all. That's when I go on a tirade ...