Y'allSpending a lot of time talking to an American man from the South, the word “y’all” has struck me as very interesting, although probably unusable if you don’t have a Southern accent. It has, however, spread to the extent that it’s included in the Merriam-Webster, so maybe it’ll catch on across the Atlantic eventually.

“Y’all” is short for “you all”, and is pronounced something like “yawl”. “Y’all” is commonly incorrectly spelled “ya’ll”, but think of the two words it’s made up of and it’s simple: “you” and “all”. When saying or writing “y’all”, you’re merely taking out the “ou” in “you” and replacing it with an apostrophe. “All” is one word that you cannot break up.

So when and how do you use it? As David Parker explains on Another History Blog:

…the word serves an important function in English. We have separate singular and plural first person pronouns (“I” and “we”) and third person pronouns (“he”/”she” and “they”), but there is no distinction in the second person; “you” is both singular and plural. The distinction between the French “tu” (singular) and “vous” (plural) doesn’t exist in English. It did until a few centuries ago: “thou” was singular, “you” plural. But by the time the American colonies won their independence, “thou” had practically disappeared and “you” was serving a double function. It’s almost as if we’re missing a pronoun now, and “y’all” admirably fills the second person plural position.

In other words: it’s OK to say “how are y’all doing?” if you’re referring to a group of people, but if you’re just talking to the one person, it’s best to stick to “how are you doing?”

And some further usage examples from my American friend:

“Y’all gon be around later?”
“Where y’all from?”
“Who won between y’all and em?”