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y'all (yôl)
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pron.
Chiefly Southern US
Variant of you-all.

Our Living Language Perhaps the single most famous feature of Southern United States dialects is the pronoun y'all, a more familiar and informal form of you-all, a second person plural pronoun. But while the two forms share this plural function, y'all is a more versatile pronoun that is used in a variety of situations in which you-all is not. Y'all is sometimes used in speaking to a single person, leading to the mistaken belief that it also functions as a second person singular pronoun. Language researcher Michael Montgomery has identified a number of situations in which y'allis used as a unique pronoun rather than as a simple contraction of you-all: 1. The "associative" plural, meaning "you as an individual and also your family or associates," as in What are y'all doing for vacation this year? 2. The "institutional" plural, when an individual representing a business or organization is addressed as a representative of other unknown or indeterminable individuals. For example, someone calls a store and asks Do y'all have marine paint? Here the meaning is "you as an individual and the others working there." 3. The "potential" plural that is equivalent to one of you or anyone, as in Did y'all take out the trash? when asking not whether a specific individual has taken out the trash, but whether someone in the household has taken out the trash, that is, whether the trash has been taken out. 4. The "everybody" plural, as in greetings and partings, for example when a teacher says Good morning (or Goodbye) y'all to a room full of students. You-all is not used in these situations. · Other varieties of American English have their own forms of you that indicate plural meaning: you-uns, youse, and you guys or youse guys. Youse is common in vernacular varieties in the Northeast, particularly in large cities such as New York and Boston, and is also common in Irish English. You-uns is found in western Pennsylvania and in the Appalachians and probably reflects the Scotch-Irish roots of many European settlers to these regions. You guys and youse appear to be newer innovations than the other dialectal forms of plural you. You guys has been adopted all over the country and is used even in the South.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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