22 February 2012

Usage Wednesdays: "Y'all" v. "Ya'll"

Everyone does it. Politicians do it, moms do it, even the Atlanta airport did it. Sometimes, it really does seem like you can spell it "ya'll." But you can't. It's got to be "y'all," and here's why:

"Y'all" is the Southern contraction of "you all." It's a fun word to reach for when you want to sound really nasal ("yawwwl"), and it's also reasonably shorter and more fun to say than "you all." It's such a fun word, many people have come to think that maybe it's the party animal of words and doesn't have to follow any rules at all. Alas! No word is a party animal.

Contractions work by smushing two words together, deleting some of the middle letters, and replacing those letters with an apostrophe. Here are a few examples of the pattern (replace the [blank] with an apostrophe) :
I'm = I[ a]m
Don't = Do n[o]t
He'll = He[ wi]ll

Knowing that, you have two different potential meanings of "y'all" depending on where you put the apostrophe:
Y'all = Y[ou ]all
Ya'll = Ya [wi]ll

And that's a pretty big longshot. "Ya will?" Come on, guys. Come on. And so, ipso facto, the case is closed: the apostrophe goes right after the Y in "y'all."

Y'all > ya'll

Y'all'll come back now, ya hear?

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