Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ya'll vs. Y'all - A Texan's Anguish

There are only a few things in life that drive me absolutely nuts, and this is one of them. I've just read another book by an author who mangled the whole 'you all' contraction, and Lordy, do I feel a rant coming on. If one of your characters has any reason to speak Texan, or even Southern for that matter, this is vital information.


Before we start this discussion, you need to know that I'm no Grammar Girl. I loathe the comma. Semi-colons give me the willies. But I DO know with absolute certainty the correct way to contract 'you all'. (It's one of those things that's gifted to you when you're birthed in Texas, like knowing that dry rub has no place on a quality piece of meat. Don't go rubbing my brisket with that gritty stuff, babe...)

So here we go.

Let's start with the general idea. A contraction is simply a way to shorten two words into one by using an apostrophe to replace the missing letter (or letters) and the space between the words:

"I am" becomes "I'm" - the apostrophe replaces the 'a' in am

"she will" becomes "she'll" - the apostrophe replaces the 'wi' in will

See? It's ridiculously easy. So if I want to shorten 'you all' into one word, what would I do?

Some writers put the apostrophe AFTER the 'a', as in: ya'll. *shudders* Now tell me, does that make ANY sense given the law of contractions? No. It does not. The proper way to contract 'you all' is by using the apostrophe to replace the 'ou' in you and the space between the words, as in:

y'all

It's beautiful in its simplicity, don't you think? Boy, do I feel better, maybe even up to tackling a semi-colon or two. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

What grammar or punctuation mistakes drive y'all nuts?

61 comments:

  1. YAY! You've saved me from having to make this same point on my own blog (but, actually, it probably bears repeating).

    I'm not from Texas (I was born in the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia) but, have mercy! Proper apostrification (is that a word?) of "y'all" is not that difficult. Thank you for this post!

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    1. Hey Tommie Lyn - proper apostrification of "y'all" is definitely worth repeating. Together we can save the sanity of all those who share a dread of "ya'll"!

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  2. Hey Y'all! True Southerners will agree that the contraction y'all is a cornerstone of our dialect. But it takes a real Southern gal with great post hole digging skills to set us straight and spell it right!

    Alle

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    1. And it takes another Southern gal to know that Y'all is a perfectly acceptable greeting! Thanks Alle, I had a feeling this post would ring true with you!

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  3. Ya'll is one of my pet peeves, too.

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    1. Hi Connie - it's reassuring to know I'm not the only person despairing over the misspelling of our treasured "y'all". I wonder how many of us there are out there?

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  4. Here's another apostrophe dialect tidbit: if you're writing rural Indiana dialect use y'uns instead of y'all. Y'uns is short for "you ones." Personally I prefer y'all, but I do live in Texas.

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    1. What a hoot, Maryanne! I'll have to create a character from rural Indiana who wreaks great havoc in East Texas by saying y'uns. I lived in Ohio for a while and replaced y'all with "you guys". Thankfully, you can't take the y'all out of the girl... Thanks so much for stopping by!

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    2. In western Pennsylvania we have "yinz," which is a variation on "y'uns." I don't use it, but a lot of people do.

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  5. Great little piece, y'all! We don't do that over here in Hawaii, but we have pidgin, brah, and da kine stay like one nother language!
    Toby

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    1. Toby, I'll have to pick up a dictionary before I head out your way. Y'all is downright simple in comparison!

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  6. This native Texan thanks you for this rant. Love it! Now if we could get people to spell "definitely" correctly, the world will be a better place.

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  7. Oooh, girl. Sorting out the correct spelling of y'all is a lot easier than dealing with 'definitely'. You write the post, we'll help spread the word!

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  8. Hmmm... I've used that contraction in a couple of places on my blog. I'd better go check to see if I got them right. I would tend to think the other way, although now that you've explained the physics behind it, it makes tons of sense. But around here we say You'ns - I have no idea what it's supposed to be a contraction for, something Scottish.

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    1. Could You'ns be short for 'you ones' or 'young ones'? I think I remember my grandmother hollering "You'ns! Stop that!" at my twin brothers. I'm sure they deserved it...

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  9. I didn't grow up in Texas, but my mom and three older brothers did, so I've always known about y'all. Yet I only recently learned the plural, all y'all. A whole nother variation is y'alls.

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    1. Bob, you made me laugh! "All y'all." Yes, that is another treasure!

      And "y'alls"? Oh boy. As in:

      "How's y'all's mom and them doin'?"

      The beauty of "y'alls" is that it can be used as the singular or plural. Or maybe that's just in my redneck of the woods...

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    2. Howdy! I sure do like this article... all Y'alls posts are crakin' me up! I'm fixin' to read the rest of this then add it to my 'good readin'' list. But before I put this up for today I must say.....

      Bless your heart hun'!

      (I love our dialect! It is very dear to my heart. I should pry take a minute to check my posts for the traditional spelling of ya'll and switch them to the correct today version - y'all.)

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    3. You warmed my little ol' pea-pickin' heart with the "fixin' to" - not many folks understand the versatility of those two little words!

      Thanks for stopping by and be sure to say 'hey' to your mom and them!

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  10. WooHoo! The proper spelling of y'all!! Incorrect spellings of this very popular word in Facebook posts make me cringe, but when I saw the incorrect spelling in a news article I was enraged! Come on people! Now, can we get people to stop spelling 'lose' (as in "I am going to lose it") as 'loose' (as in "after I spelled y'all wrong and that girl lost it she knocked my tooth loose.")???

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Amy - glad to help spread the good word about "y'all". I hear you on the 'lose' / 'loose' thing! Makes me grind my teeth...

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  11. Southern girl here. Your post says it all. I've never understood what's so hard to understand about contracting you and all. I cringe every time someone uses the contraction incorrectly. Yikes! Now, if some people would stop using it as a singular when the word is clearly plural...all is plural!

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    1. Hi Denise - thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you agree! We're not too particular around here when it comes to using y'all as singular. Maybe we're a bit too redneck (can there be such a thing?). Hmm. Might have to start a re-education program around the singular use of y'all!

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  12. See, y'all is the contraction for you all, but ya'll is the contraction for ya'll all. As in, "Are ya'll all going to come by after y'all go to the Dairy Queen?"

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    1. What a hoot, Jane - you might've just solved the ya'll mystery! And if usage is any indication of correctness, I suspect you're on to something. I can only guess how many times that phrase is uttered in East Texas every day, perhaps substituting 'Whataburger' or 'Sonic' for 'Dairy Queen'...

      Thanks for stopping by - it's great to meet you!

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  13. Hi Gae-Lynn! Loved your article! I always wondered why people spelled It "ya'll" and not "y'all" in Alabama. I did a little reading and talking with my dad who is a huge Civil War buff and looked through his old books. Looks like it was mostly spelled "ya'll" and was a contraction of "ya all". If it were "you all", it would be "y'all". So I gurss it depends on the word that's being contracted. This is what I found about the use in Civil War days:

    "Ya'll is the spelling of the contraction of the word ya + all. Southern post civil war news papers support this. Northern newspapers would spell the word as y'all as an insult.

    "When y'all gonna en' 'dis reconstruct?" -- The New York Times

    "When ya'll going to end reconstruction?" -- The Times Picayune

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    1. grits4life, that is fascinating. Using "ya'll" as a contraction for "ya all" makes perfect contracting sense and solves the mystery. What great research - thanks to you and your dad for sharing all that Civil War knowledge!

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  14. Bless you Gae-Lynn! It drives me nuts to see ya'll. I have a friend who is a New England transplant to the midsouth who types ya'll and swears to Betsy that it is correct and I, an actual southerner who uses the word, am wrong. Of course, I don't hold it against her. *smile*

    That's an interesting discovery grits4life made. I see now why my northern friend might spell it that way.

    See y'all around the net.

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    1. So glad to have been of service, Nadia! You're a true graceful southern gal if you can forgive your friend's insistence on ya'll. *shivers* The things we do for friendship...

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great week, y'all.

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  15. Ya'll most likely derived from the Scots-Irish "ye aw" that became "ya all" in the antebellum South. The singular was "ya". As in, "How ya doing?" The earliest printed usage was in antebellum Southern newspapers and was almost always spelled ya'll. "Y'all" first appeared in Northern newspapers as a derisive reference to Southerners. Both Faulkner and Hemingway spelled it ya'll at times in their literature.

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    1. Wow, Michael - thanks for taking us back to how America's language was influenced by those who crossed the Atlantic to call this place home. I think it's fascinating how language travels and changes. Other folks mentioned the derisive use of y'all by Northern newspapers, but I don't think anyone has made the link to the Scots-Irish influence. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation - much appreciated!

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  16. As a southern girl, I agree, Gae-Lynn. Y'all can write what you want, but in the south we say, Y'all. LOL! I'm glad you got that off your chest for all of us. :)

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  17. Oh Carmen, you made me laugh! Yes, the rest of the world can ya'll all y'all want, but in the south, we've gotta say y'all! Thanks for stopping by.

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  18. All I know is when I lived in TX I saw a sign at a state campground that read y'all. I figured that had to be the 'official' state spelling and that's good enough for me!

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    1. How funny, Kirk! That's a pretty good rule to follow! Thanks for stopping by.

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  19. Beautiful! I've gotten on people's case for misspelling this in the past (I was born in Alabama, and use "y'all" to this day). Now I have the rule of grammar to clarify it. Thank you!

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    1. My pleasure, John! Those early lessons in speech are hard to undo, aren't they? And what a good thing....

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  20. Oh, MAN do I feel you on this one. Very little makes me crazier. There's a "how to speak southern" joke that circulates every once in awhile, and that also makes me want to stab someone with a pencil. I'm sure you know it; it's the one that claims "Y'all is singular, all y'all is plural." NO NO NO NO NO. A thousand times no!

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    1. Indeed, JB! (Although I have been known to use y'all to refer to an individual on occasion...)

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  21. I just made this mistake and was corrected by my beautiful, and oh so smart Chicago born wife of one month. Oops. I sternly disagree with you however about dry rub. As a 4th generation Texan and self proclaimed brisket/rib smoking aficionado, dry rub is the cornerstone of real Texas BBQ. Don't even think about putting beans in my chili though.

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    1. Cheers to your Chicago born wife! (And congrats on your recent nuptials!)

      As a 4th generation Texan, you are certainly entitled to your opinion about dry rub (ick, I still say - give me Daddy Sam's BBQ sauce any day!).

      About the beans in chili, another very serious matter, I'm in total agreement. Keep 'em out!

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  22. Y'all = you all. Ya'll = you'll = you will.

    Y'all is plural, but may not be all inclusive; i.e. may only refer to some of you. All y'all = everybody.

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    1. I've gotta say, Flahute, I've used "y'all" to refer to an individual, making it singular. Probably shouldn't do it, but it does slip out on occasion...

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  23. As a native Texan on both sides of my family, I am so, so glad to see someone correct the non-southern world-at-large regarding y'all ALWAYS being PLURAL. There's something really ironic about yankees making fun of southerners by trying to mimic us using "y'all" for the singular. (Who sounds ignorant??) And, if authors who should know better don't get this straight--I'm talking to you, especially, Stephen King--I may scream. BTW, I've lived in Paris (France, not Texas) on-and-off for years and I just explain it to my French friends as a southern U.S. colloquialism for the "vous pluriel." They get it instantly.

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    1. I'm happy to hear that you're spreading the joy of "y'all" around the world! And your'e right, Stephen King should certainly know better...

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  24. Hi y'all. Great post and thank you for pointing out this crucial dialogue and writing tip. One reason I've noticed for the incorrect spelling is that the auto spelling corrector almost always changes y'all to ya'll. Damned thing hasn't caught on to correct southern speak,

    I'm not from Texas, but in Louisiana we all us y'all - even teachers in public and private schools. My ex- husband ( married twice for a total of 20 years) is from Chicago and has been living in Louisiana for over twenty years now and still refuses to say y'all. For him, it's "you guys," which drives me insane because, hey, let's face it, we're not all guys, Down here in New Orleans we also say "y'at," or "where y'at?"
    So, where y'at, y'all ?

    Just curious as to whether these next two are strict Louisiana speak (redneck - I reckon), or if they are also used throughout the rest of the south?

    1. I'm fixing (or fix'n) to. I'm fixing to get off my phone and get back to work. Fixing to is used even in the courtroom in parts of Louisiana. When I lived in Florida and we needed to reschedule a court case, one of the lawyers would file a motion to "reset." In Louisiana we file a motion to refix the case - meaning to reschedule it for another date.

    2. " I might could." I didn't even realize that I said those words until my college roommate ( also from Chicago), thirty years ago, began making fun of me, I should point out that while like the author of this blog, I don't claim to be a grammar girl, but I do know proper grammar and use it in most instances and realize when I defer local colloquialism. Any of y'all say " I might could?"
    You think you could do me a favor and watch my kids for an hour tonight? I might could.

    Love your blog. Bye now.

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    1. Melissa, you made me laugh out loud! "Fixin to"? Oh yes, that's a staple of the Texas redneck vocabulary, as is "I might could"!

      The funny part? I hadn't even noticed the "I might could" coming out of our mouths!

      I agree with you about the "you guys", too. Some of us aren't guys, distinguished by our superior plumbing...

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    2. Hi Y'all, found your blog surfin'..."y'all", "where y'at", "fixin' to" and "might could", along with dropped "g's" and swallowed "r's" seem to be used universally in the south. Although I don't hear as much of it when you get over into the Appalachians and Smoky mountains. Don't think I say "might could" but I might could 'cause my father always said it.
      Y'all come by now,
      BrownDog's Human
      ,

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  25. Thanks for this post. It drives me bonkers to see "ya'll", especially from people who should know better. I was perusing Google to see what the correct spelling is. I grew up in Arkansas and it's used all the time. Speaking of which, I will say to Melissa that "fixin' to" and "I might could" are prominent in Arkansas as well. "Fixin' to" has always confused me. Another is "winder" for "window".

    I have a couple questions...when my wife and son visited my family in Arkansas a few years ago, my mom changed my young'n's diaper. Rather than saying "I changed his diaper." she said "I dried him." Have you ever heard this before? Also, saying "y'uns" or "yuns"... I don't know how to spell it. I assume it's " you ones" contracted. How would that be spelled? Thanks!

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    1. "I dried him." That's a new one on me, but technically, your mom is correct! How funny!

      Hmmm, contracting "you ones" is tough. Following the law of contractions phonetically, it would be:

      You ones = you'n's

      to replace the 'o' and the 'e' in 'ones', but that looks really weird. Anybody have an idea?

      Nice to meet you, Jackson!

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    2. Hi Y'all!

      There's a band calling themselves "Y'uns". I had heard in was a contraction of "you uns"...Although "uns" is not a word.

      There's another expression I used to hear lots and use myself at times...instead of you'll drive someone someplace, or take them, the expression used is to "carry them" someplace. Whenever I say it I find myself getting a mental picture of picking the person up in my arms and carrying them, literally...

      BrownDog's Human

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    3. "I'll carry you to town." Oh yes. That's another staple around here that's so familiar I don't even recognize it as weird.

      Your human has a great ear, BrownDog.

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  26. I agree with you, but I've been "corrected" that I should write "ya'll." *sigh* Can't win for losing, sometimes.

    Anastasia Vitsky

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    1. Oh, Anastasia, I feel your pain. It happened to me with my first book - my sister-in-law told me that one of the big bestsellers she reads (an author from Texas, no less) always writes "ya'll", and therefore I was wrong.

      Like you, I sighed. And kept writing "y'all" - I'm sure my sister-in-law still groans every time she reads my books!

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    2. Hi Y'all...me again...if you search around the net you will find some English language usage sites that deal with this subject..."y'all" is the contraction for "you all"..."ya'll" is the contraction for "you will". hmmm...now, how does she tell her sister-in-law?
      Y'all come on by now,
      BrownDog's Human

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  27. I just started the first book in a series, written in 2010. I assume you wouldn't wish me to name the author, but when the second sentence of the book began with "Ya'll", I knew I was in for another grammatically challenged cozy mystery. I haven't decided seventeen pages in if it's worth finishing.

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    1. Sometimes seeing "ya'll" kicks me right out of a story, but sometimes the story is so good I can get past the "ya'll". If the story is so bad, not even a "y'all" can save it.

      Thanks, Leslie!

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  28. The error is in believing it's a contraction. As if it ever was two words compressed into one. That slang is capable of being defined or set down into anything permanent like written language.

    I have had people accost me before (carpetbaggers, mostly) insisting that ya'll is properly spelled y'all, that it is a contraction of you and all and so duh...

    ...but as I say to them, it's a connector between ya and ll that hanging bit in the middle; it represents any number of syllables and words I don't feel I need to take the time to pronounce. If you actually attempted to write the word phonetically, it would have at least two a's in it, something more akin to ya'all or ya-all.

    I don't go around pretending to know how to spell any number of words that they might say in Jersey (youse? use? Who knows?) it's slang. I'd really prefer people didn't try to tell me how to spell my slang. But I do thank you for the time it took to read this. If ya'll are ever in the neighborhood, come by and sit a spell.

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    1. I'll apologize now for the carpetbaggers. Teaching them manners? We've tried long and hard, and apologies are just easier. So there you go.

      Slang is most definitely capable of being defined and set down into that permanent (yet changeable) thing we call a written language. Just ask Mirriam-Webster. Or the Oxford or Macmillan Dictionaries. Or my personal favorite, the urban dictionary. (Although the urban dictionary does say that only an idiot would use y'all as a singular pronoun. I do so quite frequently, so that must make me an idiot by the urban dictionary's standard, who will have to get in line if they want to call me names.)

      But I do thank you for stopping by to read this post,taking the time to write a comment, and extending the invitation to visit. If I am ever in your neighborhood, I'd love to sit a spell and chat. Particularly about those carpetbaggers and how we can train them better...

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  29. Texan then Tennessean here. I always contract "ya all" to "ya'll", not "y'all" because the latter sounds like a donkey to me (eee-aww). Also because true southerners would never say "you all", always the "you" would be "ya".

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    1. Personally, I hear no difference between "ya'll" and "y'all" - I hear lots of drawling that can stretch the word into multiple syllables, but I've never heard it pronounced like a donkey's eee-aww. (I'd kind of like to, though, out of sheer curiosity.)

      I guess if you know lots of 'true southerners' who say 'ya' instead of 'you', then your spelling is bang on.

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