Y’all Are Missing Out: A Case for Restoring a Distinct Second Person Plural in the English Bible

Hebrew and Greek have distinct singular and plural second person pronouns and verbal forms which make it clear when texts are referring to one person or multiple people. Earlier forms of English had the ability to render these differences, as seen in the King James Bible’s singular thou/thee and plural ye/you. However, the distinction between singular and plural pronouns has fallen out of modern English, leaving recent Bible translations to use “you” exclusively, even though approximately 15% of all verses in the Bible have second person plural. Sadly, this leaves today’s English readers with no way to know if a text is addressed to an individual or a group of people, leading to unintentionally individualistic readings of scripture and an anemic theological anthropology. Thankfully, regional dialects of English have produced several second person plural terms, such as “you all,” “you guys,” “yinz,” “you lot,” and “y’all.” Over the last decade, linguists have tracked how the term “y’all” has migrated out of the Southern US to the broader United States and into the global English-speaking world.

This paper will explore how second person plurals are used in various genres of Hebrew and Greek literature, highlighting several important texts from Genesis 1:27-29 to Revelation 22:16 where distinguishing between first and second person plurals offers narrative and theological clarity. This paper will also argue that, despite its colloquial and uncultured connotations, “y’all” is the best term for second person plurals because it is ungendered, compact, and widely accepted. It will also suggest that future Bible translations could employ this term, so all y’all can appreciate the richness of God’s word and God’s people.

3 thoughts on “Y’all Are Missing Out: A Case for Restoring a Distinct Second Person Plural in the English Bible”

  1. Unsure
    As a Texan, y’all know I appreciate this. But it would be more compelling if he argued for a less colloquial rendering. The idea has merit in the translation conversation, though.

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