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The missing plural "you" in English


There is no word for "you [plural]" in English.

"Y'all," from the American south, is one of the few terms known by most English speakers that compares with the Spanish "vosotros," for example, or the Dutch "jullie" — or the cognate within any other language sensible enough* to have a plural second-person pronoun.

"The plural you is you, the weakness is in ignorance." — Erica, from my guestbook.

Irish English has a version of the plural "you," as well. If I'm not mistaken, it works like this: When the second person is the subject of the phrase, the Irish will say "youse," [or "yiz," especially in Dublin;] and when the object, they will say "ye."   For example: "Are youse comin' over to me gaff? I'll be there before ye."

The major problem with the term "y'all" — our closest match in American — is that it's regional. It's broadly known, but not widely used. Outside of its region, the word itself may draw more attention than does the speaker's intent. It's wildly informal, at best, in some places outside of its natural habitat, and to the unaccustomed ear it implies multiplicity — at least three of "you."

In practice, many English-speaking people say "you guys" to mean "plural you." But the word "guy" is casual, and, of course, in its singular form it is a synonym for "fellow" — a male.

So that's it. We don't really have a "plural you."

It's a weakness in the language.

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* Conversely, the Dutch and Spanish have to distinguish between formal and informal versions of their "you" cognate, which is kind of silly.


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