Our two-year-old no-angel hit an important developmental milestone the other day—she said y’all for the first time. She said “bye y’all” to her grandparents (after hanging up on them, but we will keep working on that).
My entire childhood I was told by teachers that y’all is ungrammatical, that its use would mark me as ignorant. Both assertions were bullshit.
Y’all ain’t ungrammatical any more than “ain’t” is. It is, like ain’t, a contraction, but I don’t think contractions are ungrammatical. Contractions are not even out of place in formal writing. If Supreme Court justices can use contractions in their opinions (and two of the better writers on the current Court do), then you can too.
Y’all is, strictly speaking, redundant. “You” can be used for both singular and plural. Whether you should be used for both singular and plural is another story. Writing should first and foremost seek to make the writer’s ideas clear to the reader, not conform to elementary school rules (and the harangues of those who never progressed beyond the elementary school level). Using “you” for the plural just ain’t clear. Which is why all across this land people don’t use it, preferring instead you guys, youse, you-uns, or, yes, y’all. I am of course biased, but once we admit that “you” is patently insufficient as a plural no other option is as pleasing to the ear as “y’all.”
I walked out of grad school into my first “real” job, at a fancy-pants consultancy, fully prepare to suppress any utterance of “y’all.” And promptly joined a call where two very bright, very successful contractors from Texas dropped y’all freely. I added it back to my vocabulary and never looked back, through swings through a large consulting firm, a T14 law school, federal clerkships, a high-end litigation boutique, and a tenure-track academic position. Through swings through the highland South, lowland South, Texas, and the Rust Belt. Maybe it would have been a problem had I ever wound up on the West Coast or in New England, but America’s y’all-friendly flyover country has Chicago. It has Houston and Dallas. It has Atlanta. Not to mention dozens of other dynamic small city economies full of bright, successful people free with their y’alls (or who at least welcome hearing them).
I’ll keep saying y’all, and no-angel is free to too.