by Jimmie Melvin
I try not to laugh when "outsiders" attempt to sound Southern. "I just love your accent," they'll say. "You all sound so cute."
You all, my foot!
First of all, you all is plural and should not be used to refer to just one person, but more important it would never be used in casual conversation except to stress a point, as in "You all better listen to me!"
No, it's y'all. That's y, apostrophe a-1-1, not y-a, apostrophe 1-1 or, heaven forbid, y-a-w-1, which is some kind of boat. Y'all refers to two or more. I know we learn from example, so y'all listen carefully.
"You come with me" indicates one person and is usually accompanied by a nod of the head or a pointed finger. "Y'all come with me" is used for two or more and might include a sweep of the hand. "Y'all all come with me" means everyone in the room and needs no gesture to clarify. All y'all is also acceptable usage! See how simple that is?
The possessive is a little more complicated. Y'all's is obviously plural possessive, as in "Is that y'all's new pickup?" or "Y'all's supper is ready." This refers to two or more and is commonly used. All y'all's is rarer but is needed for special emphasis. For example, "Do y'all mean all y'all's crops were destroyed?" includes everyone present and certainly indicates more than two. Same with all y'allses' as in "All y'allses' pigs are out."
To review: You are my friend—one person
Y'all are my friends—two or more
Y'all all or all y'all are my friends—excludes no one present
Y'all's writing is good—two or more, possessive
All y'all's or all y'allses' writing is better than mine—adds emphasis and includes everyone
Now I'd like to thank all y'all for y'all's attention.
Reprinted from Water and Rock, Mid America Press, Warrensburg 2005, p. 150.
Jimmie Melvin is a retired teacher, living now in Warrensburg, MO.
Copyright © 2005. Do not reproduce without permission.