Ya’ll vs. Y’all: How to Spell This Common Contraction

by Robert Harrell | 0 comments

Contractions can be tricky things, even before you add in regional colloquialisms. For some reason though, ya'll vs y'all tends to confuse folks. Let's clear this up.

Ya'll vs. Y'all

Many people confuse the spelling of ya'll vs. y'all. It's a common contraction and colloquialism that's in wide use even outside the South in the U.S. If you're going to use it in your writing though, you'll need to know the spelling. 

But first, let's define colloquialism.

A colloquialism is a term or phrase used in casual, informal conversation or a local or regional term. “Lots of/Lotsa” for “many” is one example: “Lotsa people use colloquialisms regularly.” 

One colloquialism that causes spelling problems for many people comes from the southern United States. It's y'all (often misspelled ya'll) and means “all of you” or “you all” in Southern speech.

If we understand the reason behind contractions and how to form them, the problem should become manageable. Let's clear up this common misspelling of a colloquial contraction. 

Contraction Rules

A contraction combines two words through elision, the omission of vowels or consonants.

Native English speakers don't, however, drop letters (and sounds) capriciously. The most common contractions involve pronouns (he, she, we, etc.), negatives (not), auxiliary verbs (be, have), and modal verbs (can, would, should, could, and might.)

The first rule of Fight Club—I mean, contractions—is to avoid them in formal writing. Problem solved for anyone presenting a paper to the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation.

But what about those of us who write less formal texts and represent dialogue in a novel or short story? Contractions are common in speech because they are time savers.

Rules of contraction deserve their own article,  but here are two guidelines.

1. Contractions involve combining two (or more) words and deleting one or more letters, which saves time and energy by shortening the utterance.

2. We represent the deleted letters with an apostrophe (not to be confused with the apostrophe that shows possession).

Which brings us to y'all vs. ya'll.

Ya'll vs y'all Correct Spelling

Let's clear up the matter right away. 

Y'all is the only correct spelling.

Why?

Since the apostrophe in a contraction represents the letter or letters that have been deleted, when you contract “you all” to “y'all,” the OU of “‘you” are elided. “All” remains “all”‘ Thus, the apostrophe must go after the Y.

Here are some examples of sentences with y'all.

“Y'all come back now, y'hear?” (Closing for each episode of the TV program The Beverly Hillbillies.) 

“Did y'all hear the news?” (Did all of you hear the news?)

“What'd y'all do this morning?” (What did you all do this morning?)

“I want all y'all to help with the chores.” (This is an inclusive term because in some regions, “y'all” can be singular, i.e., it refers to one person.)

Tips or best practice for use in writing

Some tips for using “y'all” in writing.

1. Avoid it in formal writing.

2. Use it to make a character or setting more memorable, but don't overuse it. Listen to people who use y'all in real life and follow their example.

3. Recognize y'all as a colloquial regionalism and avoid it with characters who would not speak that way. Other regions have other terms, such as “you guys,” “youse,” “you ‘un,” or “yinz.”

Hopefully that clears up the spelling of y'all for well, y'all. 

When have you had trouble spelling an odd contraction or common colloquialism? Share in the comments

PRACTICE

Now it's your turn. Take fifteen minutes to write dialogue for a character or characters who use y'all in their speech. Try to sound as natural as possible.

When you're finished, share your story in the Pro Practice Workshop for feedback from the community. And if you share, please be sure to comment on a few stories by other writers.

 

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Robert Harrell

Robert Harrell is a grammar nerd—and a language teacher, medieval re-creationist, musician, traveler, and theologian. His interests inform his stories and coaching. Published in German, Spanish, and French, with two English-language YA/NA series underway, Robert is pursuing The Write Practice Book Coach Certification to help other writers excel. Learn more at his website.

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