How are y’all doing? If you find yourself using this sturdy Southernism in a piece of writing, be sure your apostrophe is in the proper place.
While we’re all used to hearing this word spoken, its punctuation doesn’t always translate when we go to put it on paper.
The confusion usually arises from a lack of understanding of the word’s basic construction, and once we break this down, it’s actually a piece of cake to remember the correct spelling.
What is the Difference Between Y’all and Ya’ll?
In this post, I will outline the differences between these two spellings and advise you on their future use.
After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever again second-guess yourself by thinking, “Is it spelled y’all or ya’ll?”
When to Use Y’all
How do you spell y’all? When people get hung up on the spelling of this word, it’s usually because they don’t think about what the word is actually meant to communicate. It’s a word that is spoken much more than written.
Y’all is a contraction of two different words: you-all. A contraction is a shortened word formed by omitting or combining some of the sounds of a longer word or phrase.
For example, don’t is a contraction formed from the two words do not.
Can’t is a contraction formed from the longer word cannot.
Similarly, y’all takes the two words you-all and combines them to make one single word: y’all.
- “You literally act like you have won something. Y’all are so gone from reality.” –The Dallas Morning News
- “Y’all can’t see this,” one woman said walking away and warning others. –The Washington Post
As with all contractions, an apostrophe is placed where the omission has occurred to indicate that a contraction has been formed.
When to Use Ya’ll
How do you spell ya’ll? As we stated in the above section, y’all is a contraction of the words you-all. The apostrophe stands in place for the second and third letters of “you.”
Ya’ll, therefore, is a misspelling and should be avoided in writing.
Not only is y’all the logical spelling, but also it is the overwhelmingly preferred spelling by writers, editors, publishers, etc. Garner’s Modern American Usage Dictionary estimates that y’all appears in print ten times more than does ya’ll.
This ngram, while not exact, confirms the clear and overwhelming preference for y’all.
If you do happen to use ya’ll, by accident or otherwise, expect to raise a few eyebrows.
Is Y’all Singular or Plural?
Y’all is sometimes used when speaking to a single person, leading to the mistaken belief that it also functions as a second person singular pronoun. This is not the case.
The American Heritage Dictionary has a great usage note on the use of y’all, and it identifies the many unique circumstances where y’all can be used when speaking to a single person yet remain a plural pronoun.
For example, one use is called the associative plural, meaning “you as an individual and also your family or associates.”
- What are y’all doing for dinner tonight?
In this sentence y’all is being used as a plural pronoun, but, in a conversation, you might say this to an individual person. No worries; y’all is still plural.
Can Y’all be Used in Formal Writing?
While it is common to hear in everyday speech (especially among American Southerners), y’all is not to be used in formal writing.
It is part of a regional U.S. dialect and is usually out of place in formal writing outside of direct quotations (both of our examples above were quotations).
Also, most formal writing does not accept contractions as a general rule of thumb. Y’all, of course, is a contraction.
Trick to Remember the Difference
Now that you know the construction behind y’all vs. ya’ll, I can show you an easy trick that can mentally assist you the next time you are stuck.
If you are still unsure when to use ya’ll or y’all, just remember that the apostrophe in the word indicates the omission of letters.
Once you remember this, think what letters are left out. Y’all stands for you all, so y’all is the only logical, correct choice.
There is only one correct way to spell y’all, and that is with the apostrophe between the “y” and the “all.”
Y’all is a contraction of you all.
Ya’ll is a misspelling of y’all.