Pluralising 'you' to 'youse'

Aug 30, 2013


Every now and then this despised pronoun pops up for re-examination. It is a hand-me-down from Irish English into both Australian and American English. There is no doubt about its currency as the following citations show, although always in nonstandard forms of Australian English:

  • 1901 'You've stuck at home pretty constant, and ye and Lizer can have a little fly round. It'll do yous good,' she said. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career, 187 
  • 1913 'And one o' youse crowd,' he said at length, with hatred in his voice, `slep' in the lavatory all night.' Norman Lindsay, A Curate in Bohemia ii. 30 
  • 1924 'The 'orse was there, an' I knew the police'd be on me tracks in a minute - I 'ad to take him, I tell yous!' Mary Grant, Bruce Billabong's Daughter vii. 124 
  • 1933 'I ain't goin' ter give yous blokes nothin'!' bleated the organist suddenly, above the wheeze and whine of his black-mailing apparatus. Ernest O'Ferrall, Stories by 'Kodak' 40 
  • 1950 'Don't any of youse put on a blue or make a rort out of my home.' Tilley Devine, Remember Smith's Weekly? (1966) xviii. 217  

The English Dialect Dictionary lists it as the plural form of you. It's a pity really that it never became part of the standard dialect of Australia and America, because it would be handy to be able to tell whether one person or more than one is being addressed. Imagine you are in a crowded room and say 'Are you coming?' Is your query to one person or to all of them? All that we did it seems is to add to the mess by making it possible to use youse with a singular reference as well as a plural:

  • 1911 'You?' said Chook, affecting surprise. 'I niver mind yous talkin'. It goes in one ear an' out of the other.' Louis Stone, Jonah 188 
  • 1913 Rev. Foodle: 'Why is it, my boy, that your father always avoids me? You should tell him not to be afraid of me.' Young Bill (amazed): 'Afraid o' youse! I'd take yer on meself.' Norman Lindsay, Comic Art of Norman Lindsay (1987) 183 
  • 1938 'I'll come with you. Come on over home first, and have a drink. I wanter wash up. What you say - yous lookin' for a job?' Xavier Herbert, Capricornia 336 
  • 1992 'Well, firsta all, if youse lag on some one, ya dob 'em in, ya become a dog,' Michelle says while Ferret nods in support. TV Week 30 May 14 

Perhaps the Irish origin of this form made it less prestigious in Australia, the Irish being mostly political prisoners and regarded as troublemakers in colonial Australia. By the time all that was behind us, youse was regarded as such a no-no that I doubt it can ever achieve respectability. A matter of regret? What do youse think? And, as you can tell, we mean all of you!

Read some of our other articles about 'youse' and its place in Australian English. 

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