Y Is for Y’all–Dictionary +: #atozchallenge



Note: I wrote the following early on Saturday, April 27, Y-Day, but left posting until I returned from hearing La Boheme at Austin Opera. I got home later than expected, however, and forgot to post. When I remembered, it was already the 28th. I could have beaten myself up for fouling out of the challenge with only Y and Z to go. Instead, I said to myself, “Somewhere in this world it’s still Saturday.” So here’s my Saturday post



Today’s AtoZ post, unlike previous posts, is informational. It’s also intended to be educational and to help people not in the know to avoid egregious errors.

The topic is Y’all.

First, is y’all a word? Yes. It appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as a contraction used informally to mean “You-all.”

The OED, because it has Oxford in the title and is published by Oxford University Press is, of course, like the New York Times, the King James Bible, and Shakespeare,  the authority.

(I didn’t really need to consult the OED, because I already knew it’s a word.)

Unfortunately, that’s all the OED says about y’all, but other dictionaries offer more information. Dictionary.com (DC) points out that it’s a pronoun, “U.S. dialect abbreviation of you all.”  Merriam Webster_ (MW) says, “variant of YOU-ALL, chiefly Southern: YOU usually used in addressing two or more persons.” The Urban Dictionary (UB) says it’s  “Southern 2nd person plural pronoun. “

This takes us to the second question, which is where the egregious errors come in: Is y’all a singular pronoun or a plural pronoun?

As noted above, both MW and the UB  point out that it’s plural. It is properly used when addressing one person, or one person who represents family, organization, etc.” (MW)

Script writers would do well to take note of that fact.

For more on number, read on.

Question three: Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or general hickiness?

Yawl, not y’all

Y’all speakers might refrain from saying the word when in formal situations, such as job interviews, discussions with English professors or waiters at extra-nice restaurants, or conversations with English-speaking residents of non-American continents.

More on this a few paragraphs down.

Now, I can hardly believe this, and I’m not sure it’s wise on their parts, but both MW and UB allow people to comment. Comments don’t see proper in a dictionary, but there you have it.

I’m afraid quoting them here will lower the level of discourse and will possibly render the blog family unfriendly. But we’ve seen a lot of that kind of thing lately. Many formerly unprintable words, as well as formerly unprintable insults, are now flung about with abandon.

So what the heck.

Warning: The following content hints at emotions that non-y’all users may consider offensive, but THEY ARE NOT INTENDED AS INSULTS–THEY’RE TONGUE IN CHEEK–TO LAUGH AT, NOT TO OFFEND–Y’ALL SPEAKERS DO LAUGH THEMSELVES OURSELVES.

Regarding, “Is it a word?”

“It is acceptable proper English. It is even in the Oxford dictionary and has been used for over 200 years. It’s used in other countries where English is present as well. ” (MW)

“I lived it.
Texas to Georgia and back again.” (MW)

“Because if Outlook tells me one more time it isn’t in the dictionary, and thus, isn’t a word, I am throwing my computer. Y’all just don’t know!) (MW)

“Y’all damn right it’s proper English” (MW)

Yawl, not y’all

Then, “Is y’all singular or plural?”

“Despite the assurance of some emails that have been passing around, “y’all” is plural. Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

And finally, “Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or hickiness?”

“Despite what some think, it is not only used by hicks and the uneducated. People from all walks of life, traditionally the southern states use it.” (UB)

“And mind you, that we southerners get very offended when stupid people think anyone who says it is a hick. Shut the hell up.” (UB)

“The best way to address two or more people. . . . Better than: you guys, youse guys, and you all! Yes, I live in Southern Alabama, and yes, I attended Harvard!” (UB)

“Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

I hope this post about y’all has been enlightening. Most non-y’all speakers, upon hearing the word, are taken aback and respond by teasing the speaker. No one in his right mind could be offended by a little teasing. As I said, y’all users recognize their own peculiarities and can, and do, laugh along with the teaser.

Some non-y’all speakers, however, seem to have no consideration for the y’all speaker’s feelings. One such remark appears among the comments in the Merriam Webster:

“Heard some dumbass woman from Texas say it.”
But instead of taking offense, a y’all speaker responded in a most respectful manner:

“Bless your simple heart.”



4 thoughts on “Y Is for Y’all–Dictionary +: #atozchallenge

    1. Y’all is more efficient, I guess. Faster than “you all” for those of us who speak extra slowly. I’m not one of those, but “y’all” is automatic. Thanks for your comment.


  1. I don’t think y’all works outside the U. S. Frequently it doesn’t work outside the American South. It’s definitely a word we have to avoid in more formal venues. I use “gotten,” usually because “got” doesn’t sound right. But when I write (except in this blog), I try to find a substitute for both words. “Bless your heart” can be used sincerely, satirically, or sarcastically; tone of voice usually signals which. And content–“simple.” Actually, “bless your heart” has more shades of meaning. I’ll have to think about that. Or google it.


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