English on the Internet - English Magazine

What ”You” Do You Mean?

November 1, 1999

There is a problem in English. Have you Czech English students noticed it? The pronoun for 2nd person singular and plural is the same. It causes confusion sometimes.

Consider a mother who yells out to children playing in the front yard:

”You come in this house right now!”

How do the children know if she is speaking to them all, or just to one? They cannot know. The mother might say, ”You children come in this house right now!” Then they know all of them are included. Or she might point to one child and say, ”You come in this house right now!” Then they would know she is speaking to only one of them.

Here are two unique ways people from the Northern and Southern parts of the US have come to differentiate between you (one person) and you (many people.) They use either of the terms ”you guys” or ”you all” to mean second person plural.

A ”guy” is supposed to always be male. So it sounds funny to us in the South when we hear a Northern woman addressing other women as ”you guys.” But they do it. At the gym every week I hear a teacher ask her female aerobics class, ”Are you guys tired yet?” I know this teacher must be from the Northern US.

We Southerners have a different solution to the problem. We refer to a group of people as ”you all.” In the deep South, this is shortened to the contraction ”y’all.” Northern people always are amused when they hear us use this in conversation. You should see the smiles on their faces. If you Czechs visited us as tourists, and used ”y’all”, it would probably cause a good deal of surprised laughter!

Both these terms are also used as adjectives, like the 1st and third person words ”our” and ”their.” Two examples are:

How was you guys’ food at the banquet?

How was yall’s food at the banquet?

So you see, there are two ways we get around the ”you” problem in the USA. Now how they do it in Great Britain, I cannot tell you! But I can tell you it is neither by using ”you guys” nor ”y’all.”

Well, until next time, I hope y’all Czechs have a good week!

by Kim Henry - USA, writes a lot of political and social commentary

© November 1999 English on the Internet www.aj.cz