- In casual (informal) English situations, using guys to refer to a group of men and/or women is common and generally acceptable to most people.
- This term is less appropriate for more formal situations.
- When in doubt, use you or you all.
The words guy and guys usually describe a man or men. Therefore, it may seem strange to say “Hey guys!” or “You guys” to a group that includes women. However, it is a common phrase in casual situations.
Quick History: The Loss of ‘Thou’ for Second-Person Singular
The pronoun ‘you’ used to only be used with plural groups. To refer to a singular person, instead of using ‘you‘, people would use ‘thou, thee, or thine‘.
However, after the 18th century, people stopped using thou and starting using ‘you‘ to refer to both singular (e.g. one person) and plural (more than one person) groups. This led to the confusion we have today. (Read the longer origin story of the word guy here.)
So What Can and Should We Say?
You see a group of women at the beach and you want them to help you find your dog. What do you say?
1. Excuse me. Can you help me?
Regarding grammar, this is the correct answer. However, there might be one second of confusion as they try to guess who you are talking to (“Does s/he mean me? Or all of us?”)
2. Excuse me. Can you all help me?
Adding all here makes it clear that you want the whole group to help you. ‘You all’ is common in the southern parts of the United States where it is often contracted to y’all. Can y’all help me? is correct but does have a southern sound to it. However, if you say ‘you all‘ (without a contraction), it is accurate and easy to understand.
3. Excuse me. Can you guys help me?
In a public situation on a beach, this expression is acceptable. The word ‘guys’ is often used among friends, so it has a friendly feeling to it. However, in a business situation, it is too casual.
Is it Insulting to Call Women ‘Guys’?
There are people who think the term guys isn’t gender-inclusive. In other words, it refers to a whole group of people as men, which excludes the fact that there are women present. If you feel that you are with people who might take offense to being called a guy, then be safe and use a more standard expression such as you or you all.
If English continues to become more inclusive (e.g. moving from ‘businessmen’ to ‘businesspeople’) and people continue to examine the language they use more closely, it’s possible that ‘hey guys‘ (when also referring to women) will slowly disappear from English.
For now, hey guys is a commonly used English expression in North America in casual situations. In more formal situations, it is more professional to use you or you all.
Possessive Form of You Guys
- It’s you guys’ fault.
- It’s your guys’ fault.
As a Canadian, I would use #2 before #1. However, technically #1 is correct because your is the second-person singular. Here’s a perfect example written by the user Dimcl on WordReference Forums:
- (First Person to landscape contractor): Your guys wrecked my garden!
- (Landscape contractor): My guys did not!
- (First Person:) I’ve seen the tire tracks from your guys’ truck!
- (First Person to Guys): You guys’ truck drove over my garden!
- “your guys’ truck” = your workers’ truck (the truck owned by the guys whom you, the contractor, possess). They are your workers, i.e. your guys. Your is used in the second-person singular sense here.
- “you guys’ truck” = the truck of your workers (referring to the group of guys). This is their truck. You guys is used in the second-person plural sense here.
If we use your guys for both the second person singular and second-personal plural forms, then we are creating more confusion. To avoid this problem, avoid using the possessive form of you guys altogether because it sounds awkward (unnatural). For example:
You guys’Your truck drove over my garden!
you guys‘ your team’s fault.
- I enjoyed
your guys‘ your group’s presentation.
Guys’ Possessive Pronunciation
You may hear two forms:
- It’s you guys’ fault. – /gaiz/ – one syllable as you would expect
- It’s your guys’ fault. – /gaiz/iz/ – two syllables — the extra syllable /iz/ is the same sound as the pronunciation of other plural nouns that end with ‘z’ such as quizzes, whizzes, prizes, etc.
In my opinion, both are acceptable. A sentence with you guys in its possessive form is fairly rare and probably best to avoid, so there isn’t a compelling reason to argue about why one pronunciation is more proper than another.
I hope this post has been useful to you all. If you have a question, please leave a comment below.
— Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)