In choir practice this morning, Leon (who hails from Mississippi) made a comment about the word y’all, and how we just seem to forget that “you” can also be plural.
It made me think about a training class I’d attended earlier in the week. The trainer was from somewhere “up north,” and said she hadn’t ever gotten used to saying y’all, so she hoped we were OK with “you guys.”
Sigh. Well, ok, but just not from my lips. Y’all is a lovely and infinitely useful word. You see, I am a Southerner. I know that on the 8th day, God created coffee, crawfish and grits (in that order). And God looked at Creation, and said:
Now…a couple of very important (and oft-misunderstood) points about the word y’all:
1) Y’all is a contraction of the words “you” and “all.” Therefore, the correct spelling is not ya’ll, but rather y’all.
2) Y’all is not singular. Ever. See #1 above.
The word y’all is much more pleasant to the ears than the term “you guys.” The former is a soft, easy short “a” sound, and the word rolls off the tongue like velvet, no matter how quickly or slowly it is uttered. You guys, on the other hand, invites nasal sounds and even, depending on the speaker, a possible dipthong on the word “guys.”
I remember my shock in grade school when we were learning about contractions, and how to spell them…and that y’all was not a “real word.” Excuse me? And as noted above, it is only plural, in spite of how it may be used in the singular by those trying to “speak southern” (bless their hearts).
Y’all is not only polite; it is genuinely inclusive. While “you” can be plural, it may be confusing when used in a group. For example: “You come for gumbo this evening, OK?” This is fine if you are speaking to an individual without anyone else around. However, if the invitation is uttered to a group that way, you may wind up with only one person showing up (and the rest of the group being insulted).
“Y’all come for gumbo,” however, makes it quite clear. If you want to reiterate that the invitation is indeed meant for the group (in case there may be any doubt, or someone might think the invitation was for the individual and their family), “y’all all come” is perfectly acceptable, in spite of its apparent redundancy. Think of all y’all and y’all all as slightly similar to using a reflective pronoun.
“Y’all all come, make sure you bring your mom ‘n ‘em.” (Or you could say “papa ‘n ‘em” or “Marie ‘n ‘em” or whatever.) This means brings everyone y’all were just talking about, or “bring your usual entourage.” (It also means you made a whole lot of gumbo.)
I would love to see a southern revision of the Book of Common Prayer:
The Lord be with y’all. And also with you. Lift up y’all’s hearts…
Y’all welcomes everyone with a smile. It is itself an invitation to slow down, to relax, to breathe. The Shema begins with the words “Hear, O Israel!” In the New Testament, Jesus uses those words when He proclaims the greatest commandments. I think he was basically saying “all y’all listen!” While that may sound odd, it’s easier to imagine than his saying “OK, you guys…”
Peace be with y’all…with all y’all.
For an interesting geographic discussion of the use of y’all, visit