The Trouble with “You Guys”

stop?I have a problem. It’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time and until recently didn’t realize how serious the problem was. I’m working on changing, but it hasn’t been easy, especially since most people have the same problem. It’s a “you guys” problem. As in, “Have you guys seen the movie Avatar?” Those in the south use “y’all” instead of “you guys”. Either way, it’s improper English and needs to go away.

Why is it that we feel we need to add an extra word after “you” when we are talking about a group? “You” is both a singular and plural pronoun, so there is no need to add “guys” or “all” after the word. 

As I’ve been working on eliminating the phrase from my vocabulary I’ve been amazed by how many people use it; even highly educated professionals who I would think would know better. In fact, after telling my husband, Eric, that I needed to stop saying “you guys” and him smugly saying yes I did need to stop, I later heard him say it several times. So, therein lies the problem. I’m surrounded by people using the phrase. It’s really hard to escape “you guys”.

Well, they say awareness is the first step to changing a bad habit. In the past, I never even noticed I said it, let alone others. Now I notice it every time and I wince when it comes out of my mouth.

Eric and I decided to charge each other a quarter every time we hear the other utter the ugly phrase. I’m hoping the sin jar doesn’t get too full before we’re able to remove all “you guys” from our vocabulary, but if it takes a while to break the habit, maybe we can afford some English classes. Ha, wouldn’t that be ironic; me, an English Literature major, taking English classes. Sigh. Well, see you guys later. Argh, I mean, see you later.


Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:

Arden

Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

15 Comments

  1. Julie Peterson on January 18, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Here here! Down with you guys. I really roll my eyes when a waitress says it to a table of women.



  2. Jon on February 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Because the “you” can refer to either an individual or a group, sometimes it is needed to clarify what you mean and avoid possible misinterpretation. Because it is sometimes necessary, it is logical that people would, out of caution or habit, use it in all instances without stopping to think if it is actually needed in any given case.



  3. Carole on February 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    This is a very comforting article! It’s nice to know even an etiquette expert can get tripped up once in a while. There’s hope for the rest of us, all of us guys–and gals!



  4. Arden Clise on February 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    @Carole, oh yes, we etiquette experts are not perfect by any means. But, etiquette makes me be better and certainly learn from my mistakes.

    @Jon, yes, “you” can be confusing when used to speak to a group. But I’m finding there are things I can say instead like “What do all of you think about…” or “Would you two like to join us for a movie?” It certainly takes practice to come up with different words or phrases to avoid using “you guys”.



  5. Keridwyn on June 29, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I’m with Jen. If you’re talking to one person and making plans that include multiple people that are present but may not be listening, “you guys” is appropriate. Only if all parties are listening is it “wrong.” Is there anything wrong with “you all” or is it just the word “guys” that bothers you?



  6. Arden Clise on June 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

    @Keridwyn, you’re right, it can be confusing if you say “you” to a group and don’t clarify who in the group you’re referring to – the whole group, just a couple in the group, or one person especially when some aren’t listenting. I don’t like “you guys” because it is slang and not proper english. Also, I don’t like that “guys” is used to refer to women. “You all” is not proper english, it would be best to say “all of you”.

    It makes it more challenging to refer to a group, but as I said to Jon it can be done; “What do all of you have planned for the weekend?”, “Do you and Bob have a movie in mind?”…



  7. lfleming on October 9, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I am currently student teaching and my co-op pointed out that I often address the class as, “you guys.” I will say, “you guys need to take out your books.” How can I change this habbit? I also say, “you guys did really good.” I understand that I use “good/well” in the wrong context when I am speaking. When speaking, everything just flows, informal language is hard to avoid. Any suggestions?



  8. ArdenClise on October 9, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    @lfleming

    Thank you for commenting. It’s a hard habit to break. When I was getting trained to be a trainer at Washington Mutual my trainer consistently marked me down for saying “you guys”. I had the hardest time breaking the habit. I continued to use the offending phrase until I learned how offensive it can be and that it’s not proper english.

    The first step for me to stop saying “you guys” was to catch myself saying it. I also started to pay attention to how many people use the phrase. Eventually I could catch myself before I said it. It takes work, but if you consciously work on it you will stop saying it.

    What you might consider is asking your friends and family to let you know when you use the phrase or incorrect words. Sometimes we just don’t hear it. Slowly after being told by others you’ll start noticing it yourself. Remind yourself that when you’re addressing a group you don’t need to add “guys”, “you” is just fine.

    Good luck!



  9. RC on July 13, 2012 at 6:39 am

    After talking to a business client that said they will be hiring my services, I answered him that I look forward to working with “you guys”. When it came out of my mouth I hated how unprofessional it sounded.
    I googled and found your site, I realize of with “guys”. I liked the other commenter’s suggestion using “we” look forward to working with you.
     
     My mom used to say the purpose of etiquette was to make other people feel comfortable!
     
    Thanks.



  10. ArdenClise on July 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Hello RC,
     
    Your mom is a wise woman. Etiquette is about making others feel comfortable.
     
    Saying “you guys” is such a hard habit to break. I still catch myself using the phrase occasionally and always regret it. Being aware of your use of the phrase is the first step. Eventually you’ll stop saying it.
     
    Thanks for commenting.



  11. Amy on November 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    It’s like you were reading my mind with this post!  I have an employee who is somewhat sensitive to criticism and I’ve been trying to figure out to tell her she says this phrase too often when speaking to a customer on the phone.  Any tips?  I’ve been handing down a lot of constructive criticism lately and don’t want her to get the feeling that I’m nit picking something.



  12. ArdenClise on November 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Amy, thank you for commenting. Try to space out your constructive criticism with positive feedback. You want to give more positive feedback than constructive feedback. Also, when giving constructive feedback, use the sandwich technique – positive statement, constructive criticism, positive statement.
     
    You could say, “I really like how friendly and helpful you are with our customers. You do a good job of making them feel special. Because they are customers, it’s important we are a little more formal with them then we might be with friends or even coworkers. I hear you say “You guys” a lot when talking to customers. I know you’re being friendly however some people find it too informal. Can you think of some other ways you can address our customers? (Let her come up with some ideas.) Oh, I love that. I think our customers will find that very professional.
     
    You are doing a great job helping our customers. I really appreciate your great attitude.”
     
    You get the idea. I hope that’s helpful. If you still have problems, consider etiquette coaching for her or a training for your team. Good luck.



  13. indianSweetboy on November 21, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Just now got scolded by a very senior colleague after referring to the committee as “you guys” in which he is chairing.. That is why I even googled it to know if it is really rude or not to say someone “you guys”.. ?Yes as you said,  “awareness is the first step to changing a bad habit”. I am well aware now. I wish I never repeat this word again in my life..



  14. ArdenClise on November 21, 2014 at 9:37 am

    indianSweetboy Sometimes the hardest lessons are the most memorable. I’m sure you’ll be very careful to not say “You guys” again. Good for you for doing a search on the term. That shows you strive to do your best. That’s a great trait to have.



  15. William G Novak,MD on July 7, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I believe that the origin of “you guys” was in the mid to late 1990’s and usage was primarily by high school and college students not well versed in the English language. It took off from there
    by others lacking knowledge of proper English and is now used by many. I cringe inside when
    I hear it. It reminds me of another colloquial phase “ ain’t “ that was used by many educationally challenged of an earlier time period.



Leave a Comment