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The plural "guys" definitely is, at least here in San Francisco — I'm often hearing all-girl companies here being greeted with 'Hi guys, how are you doing?'.

How about the singular guy? Is it universally assumed that 'the guy who will be doing this' can be either guy or gal?

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    Related: What is a feminine version of 'guys'? (that question is only about the greeting, this question also asks about the singular reference. – Mitch May 9 '12 at 13:19
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    Appearing before the California Supreme Court, Deputy DA Borris once addressed the bench as "you guys". Unfortunately, the Chief Justice asked him "To whom are you referring?" and the only female judge asked "Does that include me?" I don't know what the moral is. – TimLymington Aug 31 '12 at 16:06
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    Try calling groups of people (any mixture of genders)'Gals' and see if there are any complaints. Just watching a wildlife programme and every animal mentioned is a he. Hardly realistic or life affirming for women. Read the paper, watch the news, cartoons, for that matter, anything, and you will see the percentage of male to females is always unbalanced. The male perspective is always proffered. All very tedious. – user60360 Dec 23 '13 at 4:54
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    I find it hard to imagine anyone having the temerity to address Their Lordships/ Ladyships of Appeal, or those of the Supreme Court in Gt Britain as 'you guys'. – WS2 Jul 22 '15 at 8:59
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    See recent article in Slate – Mitch Feb 11 '16 at 14:52
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"You guys" is a familiar, all-inclusive way of addressing a group of men or women directly. That said, there are some important distinctions you must understand:

"You guys" is more likely to be said in women => women or men => men or women => men or mixed-group => mixed-group contexts. It is less likely to be used in men => women contexts, but is still heard and would probably not occasion any confusion or merriment.

The singular "guy" is another animal. It refers to males. It is also used to draw gender distinctions in a general way.

A guy walked into my store and asked for some cigarettes.

There is no doubt that this is a man we're talking about.

In most plural usages that are not directly addressing a group, this rule also applies.

Guys are pretty simple, when you get right down to it.

This will also be understood to refer to men only. If you wanted to make the same statement about women, you would use another noun: women, gals, whatever.

However, you could say something like

My friends in San Francisco? Those guys are so crazy!

Now we're not sure we're talking about men. If the speaker is female, it might mean a group of women. Note that I say might. It is more likely she would still be talking about men or a mixed group, but you never know.

It's a hard word to pin down. Much depends on context.

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    The use of "you guys" to include women is also regional. It's common in San Francisco (where I live now), and around Cleveland (where I grew up), but when I used it in Texas where I went to university, people found it surprising and it labeled me as a Yankee (not that they didn't figure that out as soon as I opened my mouth). – Bob Murphy Feb 9 '11 at 3:48
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    In Texas, you've got the "y'all" equivalent. I sometimes find myself using this instead of "guys", even though technically I grew up above the Mason-Dixon line by a few miles. – Joe McMahon Jun 24 '11 at 0:22
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    @MT_Head: "all y'all"? No, not really, or at least not in the parts of the south I've heard. "Y'all" is the plural and "you" is the singular. Adding "all" up front only sounds like emphasis to me. – Mitch May 9 '12 at 12:25
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    @MT_Head, I have to agree with Mitch. I grew up in Alabama. The only time I hear someone say y'all to refer to a single person it is a non-Southerner attempting a Southern accent. "You" or "ya" is singular. "Y'all" is plural. "All y'all" means "every one of you", as in "Are all y'all coming to dinner?" "No, Joe ain't coming but everyone else is." – Kevin May 9 '12 at 18:45
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    Another usage you've missed is formations like "A couple of guys" or "A bunch of guys". In cases like this, it's plural, but generally assumed to refer to groups of males only, regardless of who's saying it, so it works much like the singular case. – Darrel Hoffman Dec 16 '13 at 2:16
9

TL;DR - 'guy' is not gender neutral. 'You guys' is accepted in colloquial speech to fill in the lack of a common subject in the second person plural. It is not acceptable to use that phrase in writing or formal speech.

The word 'guy' is not gender neutral, let's start there. It very much only refers to the male gender. But there is a very important caveat to that statement in regards to its usage in the second person plural. English doesn't have a good form of the second person plural. The closest thing we have is just 'you all' which of course in the south (US) is used very often as just y'all. In places where y'all is not said, saying 'you guys', can be commonly heard when informally addressing a large group, regardless of gender. I notice that I use it often when addressing my co-ed soccer team 'you guys are doing great out there!'. Still, this is not acceptable in writing or in formal speech.

8

Although guys is usually gender-neutral, it's not always so. The title of the Frank Loesser musical

Guys and Dolls

is enough to tell you that it can sometimes be used to refer just to males.

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    @Mari-LouA I'm a Brit, and the name does send shivers down my spine, though not for any reason that would make me doubt his grasp of English language. But in any case I'm pretty sure he said guys and gals. – chiastic-security Nov 8 '14 at 14:13
  • You're right. How silly of me. Mixed his gals with your dolls. I'll immediately delete my previous comment. – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '14 at 14:32
7

I would say that "guy" is somewhat gender neutral, at least in "gender neutral" contexts. Example: "Those guys are getting something to eat." Those PEOPLE are getting something to eat. (Everyone needs to eat.)

But, "Those women are all dating GUYs." The context is not "gender neutral." It's clear that those women are all "hetero."

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    Your sentence "Those women are all dating GUYs" and its explanation evokes "Those GAYS are all dating GUYs." :) – Honza Zidek Nov 12 '15 at 18:25
6

I don't think there's a definitive answer because the word is evolving. I base this on the above, and on a comment from a late-20s female acquaintance (Connecticut, professional): admitting she's often unimpressed with well-received movies, she pointed to herself and said "I'm that guy." I realize this is a current idiom, but I was surprised that she showed absolutely no self-consciousness or irony about the statement. It's the first time I remember hearing a woman refer to herself as "guy." (Granted it was a casual comment, but when people are being formal do they use "guy" at all?)
Now that I think about it, this may be a strategy (conscious or not) by younger women to get around any sexism of "guys" -- if women are guys, the sexism disappears.

5

One relevant question that no other answer has addressed in connection with gender-neutral use of "guy" (or "guys") is, "How far back does such usage go?"

I just watched a movie called Three Broadway Girls (aka The Greeks Had a Word for Them), which was released in 1932; and on several occasions in the movie, in scenes where only the three lead characters are present, Jean (Ina Claire's character) refers to Schatzi (Joan Blondell's character) and Polaire (Madge Evans's character) as "you two guys." You can see and hear one instance at 7:09 of this YouTube video of the movie ("Is there any wonder I want to see you two guys?"), another at 8:08 ("You know, I don't believe any girl ever had any better friends than you two guys."), a third at 54:14 ("I always liked you two guys."), a fourth at 1:08:32 ("Hey, cut out the personal remarks and tell me what you two guys are doing here."), and a fifth at 1:11:41 ("Not as much as I like palling around with you two guys.").

The movie script was based on Zoe Akins's Broadway play The Greeks Had a Word for It (1930). I haven't been able to find a copy of the play's script, however. In any event, if the movie reflects contemporaneous usage, it appears that some women were referring to other women as "guys" at least 86 years ago.

2

I agree with the posting by Innate that guys is most definitely not gender neutral, since we have gender neutral words in English that are much more appropriate such as you all, you folks, everyone, you people etc. The word guy is singularity male and the word guys can only be assigned gender neutrality if it wasn't used to describe men specifically, and which 99 percent of articles that refer to men uses the word guys. If the word men is considered sexist and non-inclusive, the word guys is right beside it.

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    I know women who address groups of women as “you guys”. I’m not kidding. They’re native speakers. I’m afraid you’re going to lose this one. – tchrist Mar 11 '13 at 22:08
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    @tchrist: varies by region. 'Guys' as non-gender plural is distinctly American usage. Here in the UK you hear it but it's much more unusual. We mostly got it by way of Friends ("you guys!"). – A E Nov 8 '14 at 8:18
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    If many people use with world in a general way that still isn't enough to make it gender-neutral. A glass of water with a bit of lemon in it still tastes a bit like lemon even if it isn't lemonade. There is enough "male" in "guy" to give it a flavor, especially in the ears of some people...and enough people (finger to the wind guess ? 15% ?) to not dismiss as anomalies. – Tom22 Jan 5 '17 at 22:02
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    Anecdotally, if the audience and speaker are all women, "you guys" is not uncommon and acceptable. If the audience/speaker are a mixed group, "guys" becomes discriminative, implying the men are being addressed and the women are not included. (This may not be intuitive to some of you guys.) – mick Aug 29 '17 at 4:23

protected by tchrist Dec 23 '13 at 4:56

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