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As Huddleston & Pullum note, "you" can sometimes be used as a determiner:

You idiots never learn.

I'll never understand you idiots.

But this generally can't occur in the singular:

*You idiot never learn.

*I'll never understand you idiot.

But they mention that it can be used in the singular as part of a vocative:

You never learn, you idiot!

You idiot, I'll never understand you!

Is there a reason why the restriction to the plural exists everywhere except for the vocative? Or is this just a purely arbitrary rule?

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  • Well, we do use it in the singular without a verb: You idiot! You fool! etc.
    – Lambie
    Mar 25 at 15:18
  • @Lambie Indeed. That's also a vocative (as H&P note); vocatives can occur without a verb.
    – alphabet
    Mar 25 at 15:23
  • You started off as a plural (singular was thou). Perhaps that's a good enough reason to retain it in specific (and rare) circumstances. Mar 25 at 16:44
  • How is this usage of "you" a determiner and not a pronoun?
    – Rosie F
    Mar 25 at 17:27
  • 1
    Why? ... Because! Isn’t that the beauty of descriptive grammar? You might be interested in this paper (see especially p. 798 at end). Mar 26 at 15:57

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