As one raised in the South, it’s high time we had a post on the art of y’all.
First and foremost, y’all is an actual word. If you don’t recognize this, you’d better stop reading now.
No one knows for sure when y’all first originated. It was probably not around to welcome the pilgrims on the Mayflower, but somehow had crept into common use by the Civil War. When shots were first fired at Fort Sumter, I’m pretty sure someone said, “Lookout, y’all!”
As you know, y’all is short for “you all.” It is already plural, but if needed, all y’all can be used to emphasize more than one party:
Ex. I need y’all over here, y’all over there, then I need all y’all in the middle for a picture, OK?
The possessive of y’all is y’all’s (“Is this y’all’s dog?”), making it one of the few words in the English language to be a possessive contraction. Proper pronunciation is “y’alls” not “yall-ses.”
Y’all is the equivalent of the northern and midwestern use of “you guys.” I’m telling you, I once heard you guys so much in a five-minute span, it gave me a nosebleed. So for the safety of pets and small children, if you’re below the Mason-Dixon line, just use y’all and be done with it, folks. OK?
Appropriate uses of y’all:
1. As an exclamation.
ex. Y’all! Come look what I bought.
2. Y’all to refer to absent parties.
ex. Are y’all going to the beach this summer? (meaning you and your family)
3. Y’all on first reference, and you thereafter.
ex. Did y’all know you are supposed to bring cornbread to the barbeque?
The correct salutation to be used with y’all is the informal:
ex. Hey y’all!
And you get bonus points for combining y’all with another southernism:
Y’all ain’t serious about that, are you?
Y’all reckon it will rain this weekend?
Are y’all fixin to run to the store?
This says, “I’m from the South, and I’m not afraid to show it.”
Inappropriate uses of y’all:
1. More than once in a sentence.
ex. Did y’all know that the car y’all bought is going to cause y’all’s gas bill to go up, whether y’all know it or not?
This is like putting too much honey on pancakes. Let’s not overdo it.
2. Using “you guys” and y’all in the same sentence. Sometimes an inexperienced user will drop a y’all here and there without fully stamping out you guys.
ex. Did you guys know that y’all left the door open?
This is an awkward turtle that will cause most Southerners to grimace.
3. Pretty much any reference to y’all in a rap song. There should be a separate category for this. Y’all is never punk.
Y’all is a term of casual endearment in its own way:
What would y’all like to drink?
Y’all come back now.
Y’all are the best friends a person could ask for!
So if a Southerner stiffs you with a plural “you” or “you guys” (ex. You get off my porch right now! or You guys had no right to do that!), know you are walking on thin ice, my friend. Y’all is only to be used with affection in reference to the well-bred.
And there is an unspoken age threshold — little children are not y’all. If you ever ask a four-year-old southern child “Where did y’all put the building blocks?” he will probably start looking around for his parents. Y’all generally refers to persons age 12 and up. If they’re younger than that, they’re young’uns.
Also, y’all (you all) is separate from and not to be confused with they’s (they is) as in, “They’s getting the car ready now.” They is is not – I repeat – not correct grammar, and therefore not on the same level as y’all.
Other questions you were afraid to ask:
Can you end a sentence with y’all?
Yes. (I think I just did.)
Should y’all be lowercase (y’all) or uppercase (Y’all)?
Lowercase…How big of a deal do y’all think you are, anyway? Everyone knows the only reason for y’all to be uppercase is when referring to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Can you say y’all in church?
Yes. I’m pretty sure God has been referring to the state of Alabama as y’all for years. But please, no four-letter words with y’all.
It just ain’t classy. And it might get you kicked out of choir.
So now that y’all all know the proper usage of the word, feel free to use it appropriately and generously.
And if you happen to use it incorrectly, don’t worry.
Y’all will get the hang of it real soon.