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Ain't: An Old Usage That Still Sustains

I ain't going to no school today.
She supposed that she ain't his lover anymore.
Though Jack insisted, Jill ain't moved the garbage.

As evident from these three non-standard sentences, including the double-negative one, 'ain't' is a tried-and-tested short form for pretty much all of the auxiliary verbs, except the modal auxiliaries.

'Ain't' was originally conceived in the 1700s, as a better usage of 'an't', which was the shorter use for 'are not' and 'am not'. These usages underwent their share of criticism over the centuries, for being non-standard and inelegant. But it found profuse usage even among the people of the upper class. The user needn't worry much about grammar rules since 'ain't' can be used for both plural and singular forms.

There is nothing wrong in using 'ain't' in fiction dialogs and informal conversation, but stick to the standard auxiliaries in all formal occasions. Here are a few sentences from great writers:

'I suppose yer the new boy, ain't yer?' said the voice through the keyhole. –Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

It's easy to criticize," I says, "but you ain't got the same problems as what I got."' –George Orwell, 1984

'I made this journey after the '93 bombing, and I can tell you, lady, you ain't seen nothin' yet.' –Jeffrey Archer, False Impression

"I hope it ain't your mother's middle name. Lot of people don't remember." –John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Messenger, do please lend a careful ear. Your monophilia, your one one one, ain't for Jahilia. Return to sender. –Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses.

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  1. "Ain't" is part of my permanent vernacular. In my neck of the woods, it's just how folks talk. And, I gotta say, I catch myself using it in my writing on occasion--not just the dialogue. Someone smack me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. :)

  2. Writing in school growing up I saw this as a big no, no; but I do like its place in our vocabulary. Never knew that about its origin, interesting!

  3. I never thought that the word "ain't" comes a long way. I thought that this word is just a jargon well I think I need to go back to my English 101.

  4. I recently watched a BBC production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Our hero, an upper class Englishman, circa 1750+/-, used "ain't" frequently. This started me on a search to learn if the upper class English actually used the word. Ain't it interesting that what was once upper class british became low class American slang!


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