And, Of Course, Y’All

by Randy Murray on April 24, 2014

I grew up in a border territory. Some might call me a Yankee, but I can and do use “y’all” more than an Northerner should. My rather indistinct midwestern accent hides the fact, but I’m never very far from calling on y’all for help.

Y’all is an interesting pronoun. It’s a form of addressing a group. “What are y’all up to?” It’s rather useful, and not just in a colloquial sense.

But this word also has the potentially to take that passive-aggressive Southern undertone that many miss. “Bless his heart,” sounds like a pleasant affirmation, but it really means, “he’s not that bright, is he.” Y’all clearly separates the addressee from the addressed. Y’all sounds friendly, but don’t confuse it to be always so.

My advice: leave the aggression and go for the pleasant, friendly approach.

“Hey, y’all” is useful to attract the attention of a group.  And confusingly, but correctly, y’all can also be used in the singular sense. You can use it to address a single person. For someone like me who is terrible at remembering names, y’all sounds more pleasant than calling everyone sport or pal. If

My advice for using y’all is the same as for other words and terms that you are not familiar with or use regularly in speech: use this word carefully, and, perhaps, not at all until you’re with someone who does speak the word with ease. Practice with someone who can coach you.

But you can practice it safely on your own in writing.

Today y’all try out the word y’all. Ask a person or a group what they’d like to eat for dinner, where they’d like to do, or what they’ve been up to. See if you can use this flexible term of address in a way that doesn’t seem stiff or clumsy or patronizing. Bless your heart, y’all might need a Southern friend to help y’all out.



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