JS Tip 214: From the Communication Workshops: A Discussion of “Ain’t”

“It ain’t necessarily so!” —Sportin’ Life in George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” —Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the first talkie. 

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!” —A young baseball fan to Shoeless Joe Jackson after learning of the Black Sox scandal.

Beautiful in its simplicity and power.

Wrong in formal writing. Formal writing.

In casual writing? Perhaps, depending on your audience.

A Brief History

In the early 1700s, contractions were everywhere.

We had the usual can’t, don’t, and isn’t. We also had an’t for “am not” or “are not.” An’t evolved into two spellings: aren’t and ain’t. Educators and critics gradually developed a dislike for ain’t, and, by the early 1800s, they condemned it as crude. Vulgar. Non-standard.   

But it still serves in certain circumstances. It draws attention and gives emphasis.1

Which of these has greater power?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.


If you have questions, comments, or arguments, let us know. We love this stuff. This is fun.


1 Bill Bryson’s Made in America discusses ain’t on page 39; Wikipedia addresses it in “Ain’t.” We used and borrowed from those sources.