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It's news to me, but apparently Joe Pinsker (affiliated with The Atlantic?) says so in this article.

The problem, for those who want to ditch [the usage of] "guys", is that their language doesn’t present them with many versatile replacements; English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, like the Spanish ustedes or the German ihr.

I was taught that the "standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun" was "you." (As in "I", "you", "one", "we", "you", "they".)

I was also taught about "implicit 'you' ". This allows me to greet a crowd with "Good morning!" or "Hello!", where the object, you, is implicit or understood without being articulated.

(I've tagged this with "irregular-plurals" because "implicit 'you' " seems to me quite irregular, but I'm not a language expert.)

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    I think what they mean is there is no plural form that differentiates the singular "you" from the plural "you"...such as "you guys" or "all y'all". Feb 26, 2021 at 18:59
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's merely about a poorly stated well-known fact. 'You' does not mandate a plural referent. Feb 26, 2021 at 19:02
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    As others have pointed out, the wording in the quotation is not exact. But anyway, if you want to be pedantic about it, maybe we should say that English is missing a second-person singluar pronoun, since we've discarded thou.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 26, 2021 at 19:05
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    @BoldBen educate me: what was the word corresponding with "second-person singular familiar?" ("thee?") And "second-person singular respectful?" ("thou?"). And is "respectful" different from "formal?"
    – Ana Nimbus
    Feb 26, 2021 at 20:29
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    The author's saying that 'English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun' (which is all too obviously false, because you is such a pronoun) seems to be just a confusingly provocative way of saying that English lacks a gender-neutral second-person pronoun that is unambiguosly plural (which is something well known even to those who are only minimally competent speakers of the language). Moreover, it seems that the author is primarily interested in the vocative use of the pronouns (where some of the clues that would remove the ambiguity may not be available.)
    – jsw29
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:38

3 Answers 3

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In comments...

John Lawler said...

English lacks a standard anything.

English dialects cover all bases, just not for everybody playing the same game. Or, in this case, a recent rhyme answers the question: Roses are red/Violets are blue/Singular they's older/Than singular you.

and also...

It wasn't a word; it was a paradigm. Just as I, me, my, mine was and still is the first person singular pronoun paradigm, the second person singular (and familiar) paradigm in Early Modern English was thou, thee, thy, thine, and the second person plural (and polite) paradigm was ye, you, your, yours.

Cascabel said...

I think what they mean is there is no plural form that differentiates the singular "you" from the plural "you"...such as "you guys" or "all y'all".

Bold Ben said

There are three forms of the second person singular familiar pronoun which correspond to the three forms of the first person singular and the third person masculine and feminine pronouns (the third person neuter only has two forms).The nominative (corresponds to 'I', 'he', she and it) is 'thou', the accusative (corresponds to 'me', 'him'. 'her' and 'it') is 'thee' and the possessive (corresponds to 'mine', 'his', 'hers' and 'its') is 'thine' The verbs parts used with the nominate case are also specific, for example 'thou hast', 'thou sittest', 'thou art'.

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  • It is unclear how all this answers the question. The question was about the second-person plural; it was not about the second person singular, nor was it about the singular they.
    – jsw29
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:23
  • @jsw29 Feel free to contribute...it is a wiki answer. Feb 28, 2021 at 21:26
  • you-uns exists and means exactly this
    – Yorik
    Mar 2, 2021 at 18:57
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how about "you folks", in lieu of "you guys"?

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  • Hello, c bach. // But is 'you folks' standard, as requested? Mar 2, 2021 at 19:24
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Just because something is written down, doesn't mean that it is the truth, makes sense, or is relevant. It doesn't mean it's not either.

There's a lot of context needed for that one quote, and there's a lot missing even then.

The problem at hand is what to do about 'guys'. So some facts:

  • 'guy'is entirely male gendered. The sentence

?That guy is pregnant

sounds wrong because males do not get pregnant.

  • 'guys' is questionably gendered. It's supposed to mean 'that familiar group of people'. It was losing its gender for a while, being very acceptable for even all female uses, but as the author give many examples, people are starting to shy away from it.

  • 'you' is both the plural and singular second person plural, but has for a long time been more associated with singular, which makes room for a new plural to disambiguate.

Any possible replacement should fit (not necessarily at the same time) the following examples:

Will you please move to the back of the room?

Hey you, go to the back of the room.

To answer your question directly then:

"English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun." is false because it has 'you', but no one uses 'you' to -address- a group anyway.

So the article is accurate in noting that 'you guys' feels gendered enough to avoid, "y'all" sounds (in most formal and informal American situations) too 'regional' (I doubt it would fly at all outside the US). IN a locative use (addressing a group) many suggestions have been made, but one can use in a natural manner:

  • Everyone
  • Everybody
  • You all

To understand some of that article, make sure to consult these ELU questions: Is 'guy' gender neutral, What is a feminine version of 'guys'?, and especially Did English ever have a formal version of 'you'?

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  • Isn't it rather problematic to bring guys into a discussion of pronouns in the first place?
    – jsw29
    Feb 26, 2021 at 22:51
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    "That guy is pregnant" could also sound wrong because "guy" is not feminine. (But note that it is females that (typically) have the potential for pregnancy, not the feminine. My yacht is feminine, but I can't make another yacht by getting her pregnant.)
    – Ana Nimbus
    Feb 26, 2021 at 22:59
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    "but no one uses 'you' to -address- a group anyway." - Yes they do.
    – nnnnnn
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:34

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