A quick grammar lesson on using the word y’all

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Photo via @tcplace

Good morning, Columbia, Jess here. 👋  Today we’re going to talk about one of our favorite words: y’all. I will say growing up in Florida I didn’t use this word much until I relocated to South Carolina. Now it has definitely grown on me and become a part of my everyday vocabulary, so we are going to dive into this quick grammar lesson. 

via GIPHY

While the word y’all is ubiquitous among native Southerners, I’ve lived and visited plenty of places where people will tell you it’s not a word at all. (And that’s false.)

Unlike many languages, English lacks a second-person plural, so the word “you” can be used to address a single person or a group of people. For clarity, many American English speakers in regions around the country have adopted the phrase “you all” to indicate a multitude + y’all just so happens to be a grammatically-acceptable contraction of that (although similar words like you’uns or youse are typically less adored by strict grammarians). 

But there are rules, y’all. As with any linguistic contraction — think I’m, she’s, won’t, we’ve — the apostrophe replaces letters that are missing from the full word or phrase. Since y’all is the abbreviated form of “you all,” the apostrophe is placed where the o + u are missing. Thus, y’all not ya’ll.

Another benefit of using it? It’s totally gender neutral.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of this or other Southern dialectisms, check out the following titles: the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, The Companion to Southern Literature + Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk

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