Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Grammar Moment: “Y’all”

There are times when only the colloquial will do.

Oh, no, I hear some of you exclaiming. The English teacher is about to descend upon one of our colloquialisms and blast its existence.

Quite the contrary. I consider y’all to be one of the more useful constructions around. Certainly, it is informal, and so you don’t want to use it in formal writing, but it serves an excellent purpose nonetheless. What I want to do is to make sure that when you use y’all, you use it correctly.

One of the shortcomings of English as compared to many other languages is that it doesn’t make a clear distinction between the singular second person and the plural second person pronouns. Whether you’re talking to a single person or to a group, the same word, you, is used. On the other hand, French, for example, makes a clear distinction between the singular tu and the plural vous.

In the American South, people have solved the problem by using the contraction y’all to stand for the plural form. Now there is clarity: When someone says, “Y’all come and see us some time,” it’s an invitation to a whole group of people, not just to one individual.

The key to proper usage of y’all is to remember that it is a contraction, a shortened form of you all. This means that y’all is always plural, never singular. Also, remembering that it is a contraction will help you to spell it correctly – the apostrophe goes where the letters have been left out. This means that you should NEVER spell it “ya’ll.”

By the way, if you ever do need to emphasize the plural in formal writing, it is perfectly acceptable to use the fully spelled out form, you all.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pat said...

Then there was the poor sailor whose classic, two-masted yacht started to drift away from him when he went for a swim over the side. "Y'all come back!" he demanded, obviously not Ketching onto his ships proper identity and further making the egregious grammatical error of substituting a plural form of address for a singular.

Mon Jan 16, 02:02:00 PM MST  
Anonymous Dan said...

I've always liked y'all when it is used properly. Then again, I did marry a southern belle from the great commonwealth of Virginia...so my opinion may be a bit biased, as I did love her southern accent.

Mon Jan 16, 07:32:00 PM MST  
Anonymous jesse said...

When learning spanish in junior high, the teacher kept refering to the "ustedes" as the spanish version of "y'all." In the ubiquitous prejudice of adolescence, NM junior high kids wouldn't be caught dead uttering a texan sounding word - we always said "you guys" when translating. But CA is right, the lack of a plural you form in english is a fascinating absence. Why did english evolve like that? As America grows beyond it's juvenile prejudice against all things southern or rural we are learning that them thar hillbillies ain't so stupid anyhow. It would not raise eyebrows today to have a news anchor with a southern accent like it would in the 1970s.

I always appreciated the southern wags who allowed as that "y'all" was actually the singular form and "all y'all" is the plural.

Another charming affectation I often run into in the south is the use of "ink pen" for "pen." A pen, to me, can only mean one thing, why bother with the adjective? But I love it, anyway, when someone asks to borrow an ink pen, rather than just a pen.

The American prejudice against the south can take many forms. Many a highbrow city dweller will go out of their way to find a new, exotic restaurant. "Does fried eel really taste good?" "Have you tried Vietnamese Pho soup?" "Let's go to that Ethiopian place on Tyrel street." But if they find them selves faced with a big ol' plate of cheese grits, all of the sudden they are no longer taste adventurers, they are snobs. What is this? It's exotic, but if its southern I'm too cool to try it.

Tue Jan 24, 09:47:00 AM MST  

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