you (used in direct address usually to two or more people, or to one person who represents a family, organization, etc.): Are y’all coming home for the holidays this year? Y’all let me know when you want those coffees warmed up.If we get there before you, we’ll try to save y’all a seat.
In the South, this plural pronoun function is filled by you-all (pronounced [yoo-awl], /yuˈɔl/, [yoo-awl], /ˈyuˌɔl/, or [yawl] /yɔl/ ) and by the fused form y’all (pronounced [yawl] /yɔl/ ). You-all briefly spread in dialectal distribution into the mid-Atlantic and Western United States; however, its growth was overtaken by the regional spread of y’all in the 1990s and 2000s. Y’all is now widely used and less strictly perceived as Southern, except in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and in California, where its adoption has been limited.
In every dialect where y’all is used, it serves two general functions when contrasted with you. When speakers choose y’all over you, it expresses the plural, and it conveys a friendly informal tone. The plural may indicate two or more people are present, or may be addressed to a single person who is perceived as a representative for a larger group. For example, you might ask a waiter, “Do y’all have onion rings, or just fries?” The y’all in that case is understood as addressed not only to the one waiter, but the cook and everyone else who works at the restaurant. The speaker at a commencement ceremony might say “Dear graduates, you have a bright future” or “Y’all are the heart and soul of this institution.” The choice of you or y’all at different parts of the commencement speech doesn’t communicate singular and plural in this instance (the number of graduates is unchanged). Rather, you is a choice that expresses the formality of the important occasion, while y’all in the same speech shows warmth, community, or solidarity.
There is significant debate about whether y’all can ever be strictly singular (without implying a larger group, association, or network). Such examples are uncommon and judged as ungrammatical by many speakers who otherwise freely use y’all themselves. In the rare instance of singular y’all, it is best understood as a pragmatic choice to communicate friendly solidarity, or to express group membership as a speaker of Southern American English.
- Compare you-all.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023