Y'all, sometimes spelled as "Ya'll", "Yawl", or "Yaw", and archaically spelled "You-all", is a fused grammaticalization of the phrase "you all". It is used primarily as a plural second-person pronoun, and less often as a singular second-person pronoun. Commonly believed to have originated in the Southern United States, it is primarily associated with Southern American English, African American Vernacular English, and some dialects of the Western United States.
There are currently six recognized properties that y'all
- a replacement for plural you
an associative plural, including individuals associated but not present with the singular addressee
- Example: "Y'all can use the internet at the same time"
an institutional plural addressed to one person representing a group
- Example: "We're free after 10," John says. "Y'all can come over at around 10:30," Chris replies.
- Chris explains to John that he and John's friends, who are not present at the time, can come over at around 10:30. Chris is speaking to John, but treats John as a representative for others (i.e. his friends).
an unknown potential referent
- Example: "Y'all sell the best candies in the south, Mrs. Jo Jelly."
- Y'all is received by Mrs. Johnson who is the representative of a small candy business
a form used in direct address in certain contexts (e.g., partings, greetings, invitations, and vocatives)
- Example: At the sky, Alex yells "Y'all can't beat me!"
- Alex is yelling at an unknown party
a stylistic choice distinct in tone (e.g., in intimacy, familiarity, and informality)
- Example: "Howdy, Y'all"
- A greeting that addresses a multitude of people without referencing a singular identity comprising that multitude
- Example: "You all look tough, but y'all aren't!"
- Y'all enables a quick three-syllable clause that is easier to say than "but you all aren't."
Y'all is also used in the phrase "all y'all", which is a more inclusive form comparable to "all of you". This can cause some amusement as "all y'all" can be interpreted as "all of you all". Note that we can be used as the first-person analog of y'all for the first three properties listed above.
The true origin of the term is uncertain. It is a common belief that y'all
evolved in the speech of people in the Southern United States
as a replacement for "you all" due to its convenience. Rather than say you all
, you lot
, or you guys
may be construed as a single element requiring only one morpheme
Though the you all contraction argument may make sense when considering current-day vernacular, it is prudent to consider the vernacular which existed at the time which y'all was likely invented. By the late 1700s, Scots-Irish immigrants had settled in the Southern United States. It is well established that Scots-Irish immigrants frequently used the term ye aw. Some evidence suggests that y'all could have evolved from ye aw due to the influence of African slaves who may have adapted the Scots-Irish term.
The evolution of y'all continues today. There appears to be an increasing tendency, especially on the Internet, to spell it without the apostrophe, yall.
There is also a long-standing disagreement about whether y'all
can have primarily singular reference. While y'all
is generally used in the Southern United States as the plural form of "you" a scant but vocal minority (for example, Eric Hyman) argue that the term can be used in the singular. Adding confusion to this issue is that observers attempting to judge usage may witness a single person addressed as y'all
if the speaker implies in the reference other persons not present: "Have y'all
[you and others] had dinner yet?" (to which the answer would be, "Yes, we
have", by a single person acting as spokesman for the group.)
H.L. Mencken presented the argument over whether y'all or you-all cannot have a primarily singular reference, saying that the idea that it cannot