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Growing up in a Black family in the US, I frequently heard people have conversations like this:

Mom: Have you eaten yet?
Kid: Yeah, Mom, I been done ate.

Wife: Have you fixed the sink yet?
Husband: Woman, I been done fixed it.

(Emphasis is on the word "been")

The meaning has always been the same: not only have I done it, I did it some time ago. This led me to believe that it might be an actual tense in use in more than one language, and in more than one dialect of English.

Am I right about that? What is the tense called? Are there other such tenses in use in parts of the English-speaking world that I might not have heard of?


I forgot to add that I found an article online, called "Notes on African American English". I disagree with parts of it, but section 5.2.2 seems about right:

5.2.2 Also found in AAE (and some other varieties of English) is an uninflected done for a resultant state: I done ate (I've already eaten), I had done ate (I'd already eaten). For some speakers, this can be combined with the uninflected be and been: I been done ate (I finished eating some time ago), I be done ate (I've usually already eaten).

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Would you say "I done ate", "I been ate", and "I been done ate" in different situations? If so, do they all have different meanings? I don't see any references to "been done" per se, just "been" and "done" separately. Cool question, btw. –  Kosmonaut Jan 9 '11 at 1:01
    
@Kosmo: I've never personally said "I done ate" or "I been ate". I was interested to read about those in the referenced article. I don't recall ever hearing them used. I do use "I been done ate", and find it a useful tense - I don't know what it's called, and wonder where else it's in use and whether other languages have the same tense. –  John Saunders Jan 9 '11 at 1:07
    
This is interesting. I have lived in Britain my whole life, and never heard anything like this sort of grammar/construction. It would sound like atrocious English to me. Perhaps it is valid in some American dialects however... –  Noldorin Jan 9 '11 at 1:34
    
@Noldorin: thanks. Is there a way in British English to express "I finished that some time ago"? –  John Saunders Jan 9 '11 at 1:36
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@John Saunders: In Standard English, we have to use adverbs to express all the nuances of tense and aspect of AAVE. So, yes, "some time ago" is one way to do that. In other languages, there are even fewer tenses than Standard English, or even no overt tenses; in those cases, they have to use even more adverbs and similar methods to express the meanings of these tenses. –  Kosmonaut Jan 9 '11 at 2:04
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In Wikipedia and this article by Joan Fickett, it makes the distinction between recent past and pre-recent past:

Recent:

She done work.

Pre-recent:

I been seen him.

Edit: Still trying to figure out the name for the "been done" + verb tense, which is yet another tense/aspect that doesn't exist in Standard English.

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The Wikipedia article also distinguishes between "He been done work", and "He done been work", though my ear would say that the latter is the same as "He done been working", meaning "until recently, he worked over a long period of time." I wouldn't take this to imply "until recently", though. –  John Saunders Jan 9 '11 at 1:15
    
@John Saunders: Oh, I totally missed those down there. I can see that it is something different from "pre-recent" or "recent" now. (So my answer needs to be fixed! :) –  Kosmonaut Jan 9 '11 at 1:23
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This seems a lot like where I might say "I have been done eating for quite some time now." Sounds the same tense with just the "have" omitted and the action verb cast to the past tense.

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I don't think "I been done ate" means the same thing as "I have been done eating for quite some time now". I think it means "I ate quite some time ago." –  Kosmonaut Jan 9 '11 at 4:28
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sorry, it doesn't mean that. "Done" doesn't mean "finished" in that sense. The construct means that it happened some unspecified but time ago - not recently. –  John Saunders Jan 9 '11 at 5:04
    
@John Saunders, Which makes it an example of grammaticalisation. The concrete meaning of done, "complete", has turned into a grammatical marker. –  TRiG Jul 3 '11 at 19:45
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