The 'official' plural second person pronoun in English is you.

There are several ways in English to manufacture plural you, one of which is youse.

According to etymonline.com youse is a :

dialectal inflection of you, 1876, not always used in plural senses.

This seems vague and weak definition.

Is youse even correct English and what is its true etymology?

  • 3
    You + s = plural (more than one) 'you'. Sticking an e on the end is an alternate spelling. – Alan Carmack Dec 1 '16 at 2:36
  • 6
    @JonMarkPerry That's not how I've heard it used in the UK, I've heard is as a plural of 'you' as in "Hey, are youse all going to the boozer?". Having said that I don't think I've heard anyone use it unless they came from Liverpool. – BoldBen Dec 1 '16 at 4:30
  • 2
    If youse isn't correct English (it is) and isn't a word (it is), how can it have an etymology (it does)? – Hugo Dec 1 '16 at 14:53
  • 1
    Fir3wolf66 Your question closed by by @MetaEd so I've have taken the liberty of doing some major surgery to it in an attempt to get it reopened. You can of course roll back my changes if you don't think they are fair. – k1eran Dec 1 '16 at 18:18
  • 2
    Y'all simma down, now. We already have a second person plural. – Davo May 10 '17 at 16:08

From an Irish perspective youse sounds totally fine:

The word ye, yis or yous, otherwise archaic, is still used in place of "you" for the second-person plural. Ye'r, Yisser or Yousser are the possessive forms, e.g. "Where are yous going?" https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiberno-English

And from Terence Patrick Dolan's Dictionary of Hiberno-English

YOUS, also YIZ, plural of 'you.' In [the] Irish [language] there is both a singular and a plural second person pronoun, as there used to be in English, with 'thou' as the singular and 'ye' as the plural. The form 'you' was originally the accusative and dative plural of 'ye.' From the 14th century it became customary to use the plural form, 'you,'in addressing superiors in place of 'thee' and 'thou'; from the 15th century, 'you' began to be used in place of 'ye.' From the time large numbers of Irish people became exposed to English, in the late 16th century and onwards, the 'you' form was therefore the normal form of address to a single person. As regards the verbal forms, there is evidence that in the 17th and 18th centuries some people tried to distinguish between singular and plural by making changes to the verb: we thus find 'you is' and 'you are'; but this useful device was abandoned in the interests of so-called purity of the language. Confronted with this bewildering volatility in the use and formation of the second person pronoun, it would appear that Irish speakers of English decided to distinguish singular from plural by attaching the plural signal 's' to the singular 'you', on the analogy of regular pluralisations such as 'cow' - 'cows'. 'Yous all better be back here on the dot of six o'clock or we're leaving without ye.' Joyce, 'A Mother' (Dubliners, 160): 'He said "yous" so softly that it passed unnoticed'; Doyle, The Van, 20: 'Did yis have your dinners at half-time or somethin?'

  • 2
    This confirmed my suspicions that scouse yous comes from Ireland, which comes from second language speakers of English seeing the absurdity of a lack of a second person plural and doing the logical thing. I wonder if the youse found in the states comes from the same thing happening, or from a borrowing from Irish immigrants... – Some_Guy Dec 1 '16 at 11:18
  • 2
    Being Irish myself, I find it really odd using "you" for plural you. It's so standard in vocabulary even though I'm not that familiar of the language itself apart from a few canned phrases, it's obviously carried over a lot more grammatical rules that I first imagined. – Dean Meehan Apr 29 '19 at 13:48

Prescriptivism at its finest. Simply because a word does not have a position in the standard dialect does not mean it is not a word. Regardless, it is clearly from 'you' (the second person pronoun) and the plural 's'. It fills a niche Standard English lacks: differentiation of singular and plural in the second person.

  • 2
    +1 yous : youse just different spellings of the same word – Alan Carmack Dec 1 '16 at 2:38
  • 2
    Why does tha think there's a problem distinguishing singular/plurals ? – mgb Dec 1 '16 at 6:02
  • @mgb Why does Old English and many other languages say French have different pronouns for you singular/plural? Possibly because it's clearer? – k1eran Dec 1 '16 at 8:47
  • 1
    @k1eran think you missed the joke there friend – Some_Guy Dec 1 '16 at 9:17
  • @Some_Guy oops. I get it now ! – k1eran Dec 1 '16 at 9:19

First thing to note is that English is an ever changing language with many different dialects, one of which is taken to be "standard" or "correct" English. However, words from regional dialects or newly coined words cross over into standard English all the time.

Since the words "thou" and "ye" fell out of usage in English for singular and plural respectively, the word "you" has gained traction as both the second person singular and the second person plural. This leaves a gap in the language though, and "pressure" to fill the gap. Speakers of languages including this distinction often find it frustrating that English lacks it, and indeed, even monolingual speakers of English run into times where the lack of specificity of "you" becomes a pain.

Just yesterday I was writing an Email to someone in a department of a company in another part of the country, as it had been indicated to me that his dept. was responsible for some process which I had some questions about. The email I wanted to write was:

"John tells me he thinks youse look after [certain process], could you assist me with X Y & Z".

Unfortunately, because of the stigma of using a word like "yous", I was left wanting. If I had said "you", the person reading the email would have taken it to mean that he personally was responsible for the process, which I am positive he isn't. I could have gone for "you lot", but that sounds a little rude to me (Oi! You lot!). In the end, I caved and wrote "you guys", which doesn't feel at all natural to me, a Brit, but filled the gap I needed.

As usually happens when language shifts to lose a useful piece of grammar, dialect variations that cover this gap tend to spring up. The most notable of these are:

  • Y'all chiefly found in southern American English and African American English (interesting article about it's propogation here http://dialectblog.com/2011/02/15/the-remarkable-history-of-yall/)
  • You guys as increasingly found in General American as a generic second person plural. The fact that people use it even for a mixed gender or all female group implies a certain level of grammaticalisation of the form.
  • Yous/Youse is what's used around my neck of the woods. I believe it's used in some parts of the states too. In Boston this seems to have come from Irish immigrants, but it being formed just by adding an s to you, it wouldn't be surprising if it had sprung up independently in many places. Scouse (Liverpudlian) English uses it, likely also a borrowing from the Irish, who often pronounce it closer to "yez" or "yiz".

An interesting article about all of this here, if you're interested. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/yall-youuns-yinz-youse-how-regional-dialects-are-fixing-standard-english

  • 1
    In the end, I caved and wrote "you guys" ===> In the same situation I've deliberately used youse except where context is extremely formal. I like the word "youse", and I think sharing it in the odd e-mail is a good thing to do; and, as well, because I'm Irish, I think I can get away with it ! – k1eran Dec 1 '16 at 12:52
  • 2
    @k1eran Fight the good fight brother – Some_Guy May 10 '17 at 16:06
  • Don't forget yins/yenz/yens. – Davo May 10 '17 at 16:14
  • What is wrong with you all for formal English? This is what at least some former Southerners use here in the Northeast. – Peter Shor May 18 '19 at 12:28

According to Etymonline:

dialectal inflection of you, 1876, not always used in plural senses.

The book Labrador Days Tales of the Sea Toilers (1919) uses it to represent "Newfoundland and Labrador dialect", according to the transcriber. Here is an example where youse is clearly singular:

"Youse can call it that if you likes, Doctor, for 't will be a fine fish he lands into it. But I reckon 't is more of a dock he'll need."

Another source, Proceedings of the New York State Bar Association (1902), uses the word quoting someone from Montreal:

Straightening up, with an injured air, he brushed the entire aggregation of insects from the back of his hand, remarking, "Now, for that, youse all go!" (Laughter.)

In some dialects, youse is the plural form of you, but in others it can be used as either singuar or plural.

However, I have also found a few older sources that youse it as an alternate form of use:

The Pasquinade


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.