When you first learned English, you probably spent a lot of time on pronouns, especially those in the first-person (I, we, me, us) and third-person (he, she, it, him, her). You probably didn’t devote much energy on the second-person. You didn’t have to—it’s just one word!
Unlike most world languages, English has just one word to second-person. It doesn’t matter if the antecedent is the subject or object, male or female, singular or plural, subordinate or elder.
Addressing one man? You. Two women? You. Your children? You. Your boss? You.
An imaginary blog readership? You.
You get the idea.
Ever the innovators, Americans have adopted a few to distinguish the second-person plural in spoken English. Americans in northern states, for example, pluralize you as “you guys.” It’s a grammatically correct modification to be sure (and efficient, too, with just one added syllable), but it can be a little confusing to non-native English speakers. That’s because they (we) use “you guys” when addressing a group, any group, regardless of gender—even a group comprised of 100 percent of women!
In New York City, a gender-neutral plural form arose at the turn of the 20th century: youse (or youse guys). The idea was simple enough: just add an S to you, same as you would do to most other common nouns. For whatever reason though, youse never really caught on beyond the five boroughs. In fact, these days it appears to be dying out in its hometown—rarely will you hear a youse in 2018 outside of All in the Family reruns (Google it).
Which brings us to y’all.
At some point in the 19th century, American southerners adopted “You all” to distinguish the plural second person. Drop the ou and you have y’all. During and after the Great Migration, African Americans popularized its usage in industrial northern cities. Unlike the endangered youse, usage of y’all appears to be spreading, not waning. In some ways, that makes sense. Not only is the addition of all grammatically correct, it’s also logically sound. Unlike guys, all is all-inclusive. Plus, it’s relatively easy to pronounce (Go ahead. Try it. If it feels unnatural to you, don’t force it. Maybe you’re more of a you guys type of person. The point is that you recognize/understand both when you hear them in everyday life).
One last (and very important) note: y’all and you guys are considered very informal and are more appropriate to spoken than written English. Avoid using it in academic papers, business letters, and other formal writing.
We hope y’all found this helpful.