Y’all is a Feminist Pronoun


The second-person pronoun is a contentious article of speech. Unlike many parts of the English language, it varies by region, by person, by situation. We don’t have the formal and informal “you” officially; there is no usted or vous equivalent in English. Nor is there a linguistic distinction between the singular and plural “you.” But there is a need, sometimes, to be more inclusive than just “you” as a second-person plural. That’s why there are slang-y replacements: The Old English-aping “Ye,” the pleasing but unpopular Appalachian “yinz,” the mobster-ish “youse,” the British “you lot,” and the universal “you guys.” (Carribean English has another great one, “allyuh.”) But by far the most inclusive, smooth-sounding, and useful one of these is “y’all.”

As an Alabamian, I have long argued for the superiority of “y’all.” To my ear, it just sounds better. It has the advantage of a single syllable. It seems friendlier than “you” or “youse” or “you guys.” It’s unpretentious. (A brilliant grad school pal of mine, a native Floridian, wrote an entire treatise in praise of “y’all” on a grammatical level, an argument convincing enough that I wish I could reproduce it here.)

But regional bias aside, “y’all” has one over “you guys:” It’s a feminist pronoun. It treats all genders equally. It is microaggression-free. No matter what your audience’s identity, “y’all” has you covered. It manages to be both friendly and respectful, to indicate an inclusiveness that the other popular options do not, and acknowledge a spectrum of genders that ranges beyond “you guys” or the hokier but still in-use “you guys and gals.” In a pinch, you can even use “y’all” to address a single person (unorthodox usage, and hotly contested, but still available) or make a more sweeping “all y’all.” Many college professors opt for “y’all” and “folks” when talking to a lecture hall, precisely thanks to these qualities. So if you want to address a crowd, large or small, in a way that’s both charming and gender-neutral, opt for “y’all.” Alright, y’all?