Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: y’all (2).

y’all (2). Today: Number. Although the traditional use of “y’all” is plural, and although many Southerners have stoutly rejected the idea that it’s ever used as a singular, there does seem to be strong evidence that it can refer to a single person — for example, “See y’all later” spoken to someone without a companion. One possibility is that the speaker means “you and anyone else who may be with you” or “you and anyone else who comes along.” Another possibility is that “y’all” may in fact refer to one person. Getting at the truth depends on understanding the speaker’s state of mind. For good summaries of the debates over this point — they have sometimes been heated — see Nancy J. Spencer, “Singular Y’all,” 50 Am. Speech 315 (1975); and Marvin K.L. Ching, “Plural You/Y’All by a Court Judge,” 76 Am. Speech 115 (2001). For an argument that “y’all” can be singular, see Jan Tillery & Guy Bailey, “Yall in Oklahoma,” 73 Am. Speech 257 (1998); for an opposing (and more persuasive) point of view, see Ronald R. Butters, “Data Concerning Putative Singular Y’All,” 76 Am. Speech 335 (2001). Next: “You all.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “You become brief because you have more things to say than time to say them in. One of the chief arts is that of knowing what to neglect.” Samuel Butler, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler 97 (1912; repr. 1926).
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