LINGUIST List 2.691

Tue 22 Oct 1991

Misc: 2nd Person Pronouns, Washed, Possessive

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Nancy L. Dray, "you guys"/re 2nd plu pronouns
  2. "Bruce E. Nevin", wants washed: analogy?
  3. , possessive -s
  4. Steve Harlow, yours

Message 1: "you guys"/re 2nd plu pronouns

Date: Fri, 18 Oct 91 14:35:19 CDT
From: Nancy L. Dray <>
Subject: "you guys"/re 2nd plu pronouns
[Please pardon this message being a bit out of date. I originally
sent it Wed 9 Oct, but it vanished into the ether (got killed in a
crash), and I am now resubmitting it-----NLD, Fri 18 Oct]
The discussion of "polite pronouns" has [had] been branching into
second-person plurals, so I thought I might contribute something
from my own usage:
It seems that for me "you" by itself has to be singular, but I don't
have a consistent second-person plural form. I can use "you all"
--no contraction--when a largish number of people are involved
(I'm not sure precisely what the relevant criteria are; see note
below). But I'm not from a "y'all" dialect, and what seems to be
my usual grammatical plural form is "you guys." The problem
with this is register. (Gender isn't a problem; "you guys" is not,
for me, marked for gender.) So, for example, I have found myself
saying, to two senior professors with whom I normally use
deferential forms of speech,"Will you guys be going to the meeting?".
Indeed, I cannot say simply "Will you be going to the meeting?" to
two or more people without consciously forcing myself to (i.e.,
without consciously speaking another dialect), and I think that in
such circumstances I am still inclined to mark this in some way, e.g.,
by nodding my head toward each person in turn as I say "you," so that
I am in effect using the singular to two separate addressees
simultaneously. ("You both" or "both of you" would of course be
possible, but asks a different question--i.e., the "you guys" form is
not asking whether BOTH are going, but simply asking both whether
they are going. I think "all" runs into similar problems in some
contexts, but not as strongly as "both," so I can sometimes use "you
all" as a substitute for "you guys," but not always. Thus, I can say
"Are you all going to the meeting?" either to ask OF ALL whether they
are going or to ask IF IT IS THE CASE THAT ALL are going--though for
the latter I think I would be more likely to use "Are all of you
going...?" or "Are you ALL going...?". When used for "you-plural",
both "you guys" and "you all" have the primary stress on "you".)
So despite the register problems I do find myself using "you guys" in
formal circumstances--i.e., I start to use it and only stop myself as
an afterthought--and I think that this itself lends support to the
hypothesis that "you guys" is becoming a grammatical plural for me,
and less and less transparent; perhaps it is just the unfortunate
homophony with a markedly informal term that still causes me to
notice it and try to retract it? The more clearcut grammaticalization,
though, is that "you" on its own can only be singular for me.
Grammaticalizing what form fills the other slot (and there does seem
to be a palpable "other slot") seems to be secondary--but "you guys"
may be well on its way.
What do you all* think? More data? I'm sure there must be
something in American Speech on this--any references?
*I don't know why "you all" seems more natural here than
"you guys." Perhaps "you guys" seems too individuated. In any
event, I am beginning to doubt what I said before about "you guys"
being WELL on its way to becoming just "you-plural." But perhaps
it is on its way--or at least worth watching.
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Message 2: wants washed: analogy?

Date: Mon, 21 Oct 91 07:29:23 EDT
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: wants washed: analogy?
The following is from a local administrative message received this
> The Microwave that provides ethernet connectivity for Bld 20
> has been scheduled down for emergency maintenance during the hours
The author is not a "wants washed" speaker, nor is this a "wants washed"
region. I wonder if something like this could provide a plausible
analogic path for development of the "wants washed" construction.
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Message 3: possessive -s

Date: Tue, 15 Oct 91 22:20:18 EST
From: <>
Subject: possessive -s
William Edmondson says that I only addressed the origin of possessive -s,
not its status as a phrasal clitic. That was all I meant to do. I did not
want to make any claims about the proper synchronic analysis of the form,
only to point out that the old story about its descent from "his" is just
plain wrong. I am sorry to see the word "only" attached to that attempt,
because I think it is important to keep our facts straight, even in areas
outside our own.
Elise Morse-Gagne
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Message 4: yours

Date: Wed, 16 Oct 91 0:46 BST
From: Steve Harlow <>
Subject: yours
The discussion about 'yours' intiated (I think) by And Rosta, reminds me of
what seems like a similar phenomenon with coordination. If you produce a
coordinate possessive structure, of which the last item is a pronoun, you get
by analogy with non-pronominal NPs and pronominal possessives (for example)
the following (increasingly desperate) range of possibilities:
John's and my car
John and my car
John and I's car
John's and I's car
John and mine car
John's and mine car
John and me's car
John's and me's car
None of these is any good for me (nor for many British English speakers I have
asked about the topic). The only grammatical way for us to express this is by
paraphrase - eg. 'the car belonging to John and me'.
Steve Harlow
University of York
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