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second-person pronouns

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Definition:

Pronouns used when a speaker addresses one or more individuals.

In contemporary standard English, these are the second-person pronouns:

In addition, your is the second-person possessive determiner.

As discussed below, other second-person pronouns (such as thee, thou, and ye) have been used in the past, and some (such as y'all and yous(e)) are still used today in certain dialects of English.

See also:

Examples:

  • "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
    (Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight, 2008)


  • "Do you know what's waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it! It's yours!"
    (Brad Pitt as Achilles in Troy, 2004)


  • "The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It's a good non-specific symptom. . . . What you do is, you fake a stomach cramp, and when you're bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school."
    (Matthew Broderick as Ferris in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)


  • "Laila came over here to braid y'all's hair, but left cause y'all wasn't here."
    (Jesmyn Ward, Where the Line Bleeds. Agate Bolden, 2008)


  • "I hope the good white people round here kill all y'all off."
    (Ernest J. Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, 1971)


  • "'But I need to ask you guys a big favor.'

    "'Ask and you shall receive, my son,' said Tradd."
    (Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline, 1980)


  • "Be off, I'm tellin' yous, yourselves an' your pound on demand!"
    (Sean O'Casey, Five Irish Plays, 1935)


  • "Drive thy business, or it will drive thee."
    (Benjamin Franklin)


  • "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit."
    (John 15: 16, The King James Bible, 1611)


  • "Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit."
    (Deuteronomy, 19:3, The King James Bible, 1611)

Observations:

  • "[R]esearch has found that the inclusion of second-person pronouns in a message increases people's motivation to attend to a message (Burnkrant & Unnava, 1989)."
    (David R. Roskos-Ewoldsen, "What Is the Role of Rhetorical Questions in Persuasion?" Communication and Emotion: Essays in Honor of Dolf Zillmann, ed. by Jennings Bryant et al. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)


  • Thou and Ye Forms
    "As early as the late thirteenth century, the second person plural forms (ye, you, your) began to be used with singular meaning in circumstances of politeness or formality, leaving the singular forms (thou, thee, thy/thine) for intimate, familiar use. In imitation of the French use of vous and tu, the English historically plural y-forms were used in addressing a superior, whether by virtue of social status or age, and in upper-class circles among equals, though high-born lovers might slip into the th-forms in situations of intimacy. The th-forms were also used by older to younger and by socially superior to socially inferior."
    (John Algeo and Thomas Payne, The Origin and Development of the English Language, 5th ed. Thomson Wadsworth, 2005)


  • Ye and You
    "In early Middle English, ye was used in subject position, and it marked plurality, whilst you was used in object position, also marking plurality. . . . Singularity was marked by thee and thou. In the fourteenth century this system began to change, and you began to be used in subject position, as today. As you usage increased over the fifteenth century, ye and you began to lose their function of marking plurality, and by the end of the period they were used for both singular and plural referents, in both subject and object position."
    (Peter Brown, A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture C.1350 - C.1500. Blackwell, 2007)


  • Thou and You
    "Thou . . . had in Old English been used when addressing only one person, and you when addressing more. By the sixteenth century, this had changed; the difference was social, with thou expressing intimacy or possibly condescension, while you was chillier or more respectful. The distinction disappeared in the seventeenth century from written English, and from most spoken English also, though one may still hear it in Yorkshire--it is memorably frequent in Barry Hines's novel A Kestrel for a Knave, set in 1960s Barnsley. By contrast, other languages in Western Europe continue to draw such a distinction: in some, notably French, it is important, while in others, such as Spanish and Swedish, the formal address is now not much used. Today's yous, widely heard in Ireland, and youse, heard on Merseyside and in Australia, revive and make explicit the difference between the plural you and the singular. So, too, does the American y'all."
    (Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. John Murray, 2011)


  • Plurals: Y'all, Y'all's, All y'all's and You Guys
    "Since you was now both singular and plural, how could you make clear that you were speaking to more than one? . . .

    "In the United States, the best the North can do is the casual you guys. But the South has found a comfortable solution: y'all. . . .

    "Clear evidence that y'all is one word instead of two is the possessive form y'all's. For example, Mamo's Garlic Sauce of Austin, Texas, posts on its website a collection of 'Y'all's Recipes.' . . .

    "Some Southerners don't accept the explanation that y'all is the plural of you. They insist that y'all is just another way of saying you, with either singular or plural meaning. They contend that to make a plural, you must say all y'all. . . .

    "But for now many Southerners still would reject the notion that y'all can be properly applied to only one person."
    (Allan A. Metcalf, How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin, 2000)


  • A User's Guide to Y'all
    "Let me offer a quick user’s guide to 'y’all,' because there’s a lot of bad information floating around on the internet. It’s a contraction of 'you all,' obviously, a phrase with the same structure and purpose as the British 'you lot.' The southern iteration is naturally disposed to being contracted, although people do use the expanded 'you all.' In general, it seems 'you all' is more likely to be the object, while 'y’all' is the subject, although rhythm is probably the most important factor. Another iteration is 'all y’all,' which is used to encompass an entire group in situations where, because the group has natural subsets, ambiguity might otherwise emerge.

    "No matter what you might have heard, 'y’all' should not be used as a singular."
    (E.G. Austin, "Y’all Hear This." The Economist, Sep. 19, 2011)
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