Lenny Kravitz is coming to town, and ain’t that great news?
I remember being a teenager and daydream while listening to Lenny Kravitz’s It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and wonder, “What exactly is ain’t?”. Even though it was clear it had a negative meaning, I hadn’t studied it at my language school, so I wasn’t sure of the grammar rules for this word. Of course, I couldn’t live in doubt for long, and I soon got the explanation I needed.
It is true: Lenny Kravitz is coming to Auckland this March, and this brought back memories of the grammatical doubts of my youth, so if you ever wondered what ain’tis all about, this post is here to throw some light upon its usage.
So, what exactly is ain’t?
It is a kind of joker (the playing card that has no fixed value) that works as an auxiliary verb. Which one? Well, you need to pay attention to the context to find that out. Yes, you’ve got to play the role of a grammar detective, but it is easier than it sounds. Can you guess what ain’t is replacing in these sentences?
1. I ain’t going nowhere.
2. You ain’t welcome here.
3. She ain’t an angel.
4. I ain’t got no money.
5. Since he left, she ain’t been the same.
If you have good grammar detective skills, you may have noticed ain’t is a short form of am not, are not, is not, have not and has not. But wait, baby, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. You have to know that:
- It is vernacular, non-standard, and extremely informal. That’s why you’ve probably heard it in songs, conversations and films, but never seen it written.
- Many people consider it is wrong, and that it makes the speaker sound uneducated. In fact, it is more common in the habitual speech of the less educated.
- It is often used together with double negatives, which are considered bad English, such as in examples 1 and 4 above, which are also associated with the speech of the less educated.
However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, ain’t is used in speech and writing to make emphasis, to call people’s attention, and it is also part of fixed expressions, such as:
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, meaning that if something works well, there is no reason to try to change it.
- You ain’t seen nothing yet, used to mean that no matter how impressive something is, it will be overshadowed by more exciting or surprising things that are likely to happen.
It is also used to sound funny or ironic, like in the phrase: It ain’t no rocket science, which means, it is not so complicated.
Now that you know how to use ain’t, here comes the question: Should you use it? My personal advice is that, unless you want to use one of the fixed expressions above, if you are a student of English, you should try to avoid it, because using it may make you sound contrived, as if you were trying very hard to sound like a native speaker. Remember it is considered to be non-standard, incorrect, even impolite, so don’t use it in professional situations.
So, what has Lenny been saying all these years? Baby, it is not over 'til it’s over. That extra syllable would make it sound weird, don’t you think? Ain’t is the perfect solution. After all, it is said that everything is fair in love and war (and songs, when it comes to language).
Have you heard ain't in any songs? Let me know in which ones!
For a trip down memory lane, here I leave you Lenny's song.