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Ain’t

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  • Ain’t is a centuries-old contraction meaning am not, is not, are not, has not, or have not. The word has been derided by usage authorities throughout its history, and it’s still considered unacceptable in formal writing, but it has a secure place in spoken English. In edited writing, ain’t is mainly used tongue-in-cheek, as part of a common expression, or in an effort to sound folksy.

    Examples

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    Let’s face it, surfers and surfettes, when the water temps in the high 30s or low 40s, it ain’t much fun. [Star-Ledger]

    A lot of people say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. [Mirror]

    Northeast England ain’t renowned for its winemakers, but Andrew Hedley of Framingham isn’t your average guy. [New Zealand Herald]

    This ain’t your grandmother’s Lladró. [Los Angeles Times]

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    Comments

    1. My dictionary claims that ain’t isn’t a word at all. I think I have to agree with Mr.Oxford on this.

    2. Heavy Metal Heartbreaker says:

      There are other grammatic functions of “ain’t” that are not addressed here, as in the example “Ain’t nothing wrong with me.”

      • I’m tempted to say that your example sentence is simply a shortening of “There ain’t nothing wrong with me,” meaning that its function in the sentence is in fact covered above (“isn’t”).

        Then again, omitting the word “there” seems to only work when it’s followed by “ain’t.” For instance, you can’t say, “Isn’t nothing wrong with me.” (It sounds like a question.) So maybe that’s enough reason to add “there isn’t” to the list of meanings for “ain’t.” Either way, it seems clear that it arose as a colloquial omission of the word “there.”

        (Note that your example sentence uses the colloquial double-negative, “there ain’t nothing” as opposed to the grammatically correct “there ain’t anything.” But this doesn’t affect the function of “ain’t.”)

        • Heavy Metal Heartbreaker says:

          True, my example is close to (and is maybe even a version of) the meanings of “ain’t” addressed above. But my larger point, which your comment also gestures toward, is that “ain’t” lets you do unusual things grammatically; there are ways to use “ain’t” that are grammatically interesting. I think Grammarist can improve its entry on “ain’t” by addressing this.

          Also, the interesting thing in my example is not just that “ain’t” amounts to “there is not” with “there” omitted. My example also goes to show that “ain’t” can be used passively. This is not explicitly clear in the Grammarist entry—the uses of “ain’t” that it delineates are all active (am not, is not, are not, has not, or have not). My point is that adding “There is not” to that list is a non-trivial addition, one that expands the uses and peculiarity of “ain’t.”

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