What's so wrong with the word "ain't"?

My wife – an English teacher – and I were having a discussion about this last night. Why do grammarians frown upon the use of the word “ain’t”? Why isn’t it considered proper grammar?

After all, how else would you contract “am not”? All other pronouns have the equivalent contractions.


“Ain’t” ain’t a word.

The proper contraction of “I am not” is “I’m not”. Contracting “am not” as you can with “isn’t” or “aren’t” is Evil.

Grammatically, it’s fine. Stylistically, it’s wrong in many contexts.

“Amn’t”. Which I believe is a valid construction in parts of Ireland and Scotland.

There’s an article here which discusses ain’t in more detail than I can. There’s really nothing wrong with it other than it is considered colloquial rather than formal. I think part of the objection is that it seems “lazy,” and isn’t just used as a contraction for “am not,” but also for other types of negation, like “I ain’t got” or other persons: “I ain’t, you ain’t, he ain’t, we ain’t, they ain’t.”

Grammarians have found on the word ain’t because the word ain’t was more commonly used by the poor and the lower class, making the word a “lower class” word, and not one that proper grammarians should use.

The time when you need to contract “am not” is when it’s part of a question. “Am I not a man?” sounds rather stilted. “Ain’t I a man?” is too low-brow (stylistically) for many uses. What works as the middle-of-the-road style is “Aren’t I a man?”

And, as I said before, all three possibilities are good English grammar. How they vary is in level of style or formality.

“Am’nt” isn’t really proper English: I thought it was slang in the same way as “ain’t”. Even that Wikipedia article says it’s not Standard English and suggest it should be merged into the “ain’t” article.

Isn’t the obvious answer to your question that the correct way to shorten “I am not” is “I’m not”? Unless I’m missing something. You don’t use the phrase “am not” unless it’s preceded by I. And why would “ain’t” be seen as a properly grammatical contraction of “am not” anyway? It adds completely unrelated sounds.

I didn’t say “amn’t” was proper English. The question was how else would you contract “am not”? The obvious answer is “amn’t,” which exists in certain dialects of English.

edit: By “obvious answer” I mean parallels to constructions like “he isn’t, they aren’t, we aren,t, etc.” not “he’s not, they’re not, we’re not.”

No, as mentioned, “am I not” is a common construction that should contract to something like “Amn’t I” or “Ain’t I” but instead contracts to the odd “aren’t I.”

Why isn’t it a word? Who gets to decide that?

With one very noteworthy exception: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain't_I_A_Woman

I don’t know that that is an exception. Truth was certainly lower class and her speech was stylistically low-brow.

I know that people do say, “Aren’t I” but I don’t see how it can be correct when “are” is not the first-person conjugation of the verb.

It’s just one more irregularity of the verb “to be” in English. If that verb were completely regular, it would be “Ben’t I.”

If “ain’t” isn’t a proper contraction, then neither should “won’t” be.

And, “ain’t” is definitely a word–it’s used by millions of people every day who know exactly what they mean when they say it.

Apparently it is in some dialects. Witness the use of “I are” (pronounced ‘eye air’) in the movie “Sergeant York.”

Sojourner Truth was lowbrow, as was her speech, but now, the historical import has rendered it sophisticated.

My vote is that this is the real driver.

I think the reason it was so significant and the reason it’s remembered today is that it wasn’t sophisticated. It was a blunt and simple protest against slavery and the hypocrisy and dehumanization that surrounded it.

I think the word ‘ain’t’ has almost magical properties. You can use it to determine if the person you’re talking to has a stick up their ass. Also, it sometimes fits the rhythm of the sentence better and people know what it means therefore it can be useful. I’m a keepin’ it.