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There is a novel titled 'Ball Don't Lie', and a film also based on the novel with the same name (visit: Wikipedia synopsis). Then the sentence becomes more famous in sports world after Rasheed Wallace used it in one of NBA games (watch YouTube video here).

So I'm just curious, isn't there clearly a grammar mistake in this term? Shouldn't it be "Balls Don't Lie", or "Ball Doesn't Lie"?

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Or is it a vocative with an imperative?: "Ball, don't lie!". Then there should be a comma. – Cerberus Apr 12 '12 at 2:57
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Not knowing that film or novel specifically, I assume the title intentionally employs a "grammatical error" that reflects speech patterns common among the people being written about. Similar to another novel, "Blood Done Sign My Name," by University of Wisconsin–Madison professor Timothy B. Tyson.

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Yes, it's ungrammatical in formal usage. It means "the ball doesn't lie", but the grammar makes it sound street-tough and world-wise, .

It's an Americanism, possibly AAVE derived, with the word "don't" taking on a generic "do" role, much as "ain't" takes on a generic "is" role in rural speech. Compare

  • Ball ain't bouncing.
  • Ball don't bounce.
  • She ain't seen me.
  • She don't see me
  • Ain't he there?
  • Don't he hang there?

I wouldn't call these ungrammatical, although they are in formal contexts. They are particular to a street or youth idiom. It's a reduction in the number of conjugations required, making the sentence form regular across different pronouns. It's the same form with "he", "you", "I" in the subject role.

I found it in an AAVE feature list, it's 3rd singular don't on the list. But it doesn't feel specifically like AAVE, because it's not complex enough to be a unique AAVE thing, like "That ball done been lying" would be.

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Standard English fails to distinguish between the forms of the auxiliary verb do and its main verb forms. This is true both of present tense forms, where many other dialects distinguish between auxiliary I do, he do and main verb I do, he does or similar, and the past tense, where most other dialects distinguish between auxiliary did and main verb done, as in You done it, did you?

From ‘Standard English: what it isn’t’ by Peter Trudgill. Complete text here.

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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 11 '13 at 22:39

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