It strikes me as unfortunate that in English the word "you" stands both for a single person and a group of people. This is different than other languages I have had contact with so far --- there, you have a "singular you" and a "plural you", which are quite different.

Usually this is not a problem, since the cardinality can be inferred from the context. However, sometimes it would be nice to explicitly state that you are referring to the whole group. Is there a generic way to do it?

If not, then for a particular example, consider a situation when out of politeness one wants to ask a pair of people some causal question, like "How do you like the weather?" or "How was your journey?" or something in that spirit. Suppose such question is included in an email or a text message sent to one of them. There may be, depending on precise situation, some ambiguity as to who the question is directed to - just the recipient, or both of them. How does one remove this ambiguity in a simple way?

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    It's a bit "dialectal", but you can always use forms like You all, Y'all, Youse. Or just say You guys, or something similar. I think this is Too Basic for ELU. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 14:40
  • What about we and the inclusive we? And you as second-person vs. you as an 'indefinite someone'? Usually this is a problem.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 14:58
  • Whoever had thought this is GR?!
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 14:59
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    @FumbleFingers: Thank you for the mention of the question being "Too Basic for ELU". It just lead me to realising the existence of ELL, which would be a much better place for some of my queries. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 18:20
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    @ Feanor: I only get my one vote here. To my mind, the "ELU version" of this question is Why have some plural pronouns replaced singular pronouns?, which does actually address the relevant history. But all you want to know is how to avoid potential ambiguity - which obviously all native speakers just do without thinking about it, should the need arise. Since people have already answered, I guess you should leave the question here - but I look forward to seeing you on ELL, and I hope you find it suitable for your future questions! Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 18:59

1 Answer 1


As pointed out on dictionary.com, it has become common use to add a qualifier, and colloquially in different regions we see variations like "you 'uns" (Pennsylvania), "y'all" (Southern US), and so forth. It is also correct to specify which set ("you Stack Exchange people", "you Americans", "you people with small feet"). As pointed out by the question, the context will usually provide the intended meaning.

You can remove the ambiguity by addressing the group generally ("How does everyone like the weather"), specifically ("How do like the weather?"), or indirectly ("Does anyone have any thoughts about the weather?")

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    How do you figure you is singular? Merriam-Webster's entry for you says "the one or ones being addressed —used as the pronoun of the second person singular or plural in any grammatical relation except that of a possessive <you may sit in that chair> <you are my friends> <can I pour you a cup of tea> —used formerly only as a plural pronoun of the second person in the dative or accusative case as direct or indirect object of a verb or as object of a preposition"
    – JLG
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 15:55
  • "you" as the second person plural has an implied singular set being addressed, the effect being that each member of the group may interpret the speaker as addressing the listener individually. Otherwise, sentences like "you are my friends" would be either meaningless (you who?) or grammatically incorrect (because as a singular, one would say "You are my friend"). Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 16:03
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    @Ben Brammer: Nonsense. Just for starters, 'You are too many to name' has half a million Google hits. Each member of the group being addressed may 'interpret the speaker as addressing [him] individually', may he? Also, at uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110304134328AA5EbUK is the accurate: "The second person singular in English used to be 'thou', and the second person plural was 'you' ( which replaced 'ye')." But you claim, without citing any authority (I'd like to see you find any), 'you is singular'. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 16:30
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    You is both singular and plural (referentially), but takes plural agreement. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 16:46
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    I stand corrected. I was wrong. Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 17:01

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