I've encountered a particular type of writing occasionally and it being, derp, in writing, it's hard to tell whether there's an accent behind it. The English used seems to me to be simply incorrect, but I can't help but feel that the following features are part of a dialect or a regional style of English.

One of the most glaring (and grating) features is the substitution of "saw" with "seen".

He seen him at the shop the other day.

I seen that you were looking for...


The use of "away (to)" is also peculiar, if not incorrect.

He was away to open the door when...

He was away to get what he had asked for.


I haven't come across these forms very often, and even then it was accompanied by otherwise mostly correct English, which is what makes me wonder what the hell. This is more intellectual curiosity than anything else.

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    We have no context with which to determine if your examples are supposed to be a regionalism or just bad grammar. Can you provide the source for the quotes? Jun 29, 2013 at 21:57
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    Both are regional English. The first is from London/Thames Estuary (and perhaps elsewhere); the second is Scotland (and perhaps Ireland).
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 29, 2013 at 22:05
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    @AndrewLeach, I've heard the first example here in the US too. Jun 29, 2013 at 22:14
  • @Kristina Lopez, I reconstructed the examples, I didn't copy-paste anyone's writing (figured that would be rude and a bit invasive). Not sure how context would help, unless you mean the origins of the writer. London and Northern UK sound about right though, but I'm always open to more information.
    – Corina
    Jun 29, 2013 at 22:26
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    Corina, I think you have two distinct questions here. I agree with Fumblefingers on the second. As for the first, this is, as noted in my comments below, a very common substitution by American English speakers of a certain group. I know plenty of adults who do it. Perhaps supporting the assertion that it's common: a search on the phrase "saying seen instead of saw" returns, among other complaints, two facebook groups expressing hatred for this habit.
    – sarah
    Jul 2, 2013 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


I will address the substitution of seen for saw. I see no problem with the uses of away.

This is a feature of a non-standard American English spoken by many native speakers of a low socioeconomic group and by Southerners. I know this from personal experience, but found the following sources to support my assertion.

One socially marked feature is the use of nonstandard past tense and past participial verb forms, especially on irregular verbs. For example, the verb to see in standard English has the past tense saw and the past participle seen: I saw him yesterday; I’ve seen him three times this week.

Nonstandard dialects may regularize these forms by using one of several strategies. One is to form the past tense by using the regular inflection, spelled -ed, yielding a sentence like I seed him yesterday. Another is to use one form for both the past and past participle forms, yielding sentences like I seen him yesterday or I’ve saw him three times this week.

Excepted from Linguistics for Non-Linguists, by Frank Parker Kathryn Riley

Wikipedia says this is also said to be a feature of Southern American English.

Use of done (instead of did) as the past simple form of do, and similar uses of the past participle in place of the past simple, such as seen replacing saw as past simple form of see. I only done what you done told me. I seen her first.

Another Wikipedia article identifies this as a feature of Appalachian English, a subset of the low socioeconomic class.

Finally, John G. Fought's thoughts on this phenomenon.

The great American linguist Leonard Bloomfield observed many years ago that the child who learns to say I seen it has learned just as much as the one who says I saw it. Both of these forms are irregular. The least common American past-tense form of see is the regularized form I seed it. These so-called mistakes shed more light on language than “standard” forms, because what’s going on is clearly not ignorance, laziness or poor schooling. The pattern of present, past and perfect of see, seen and seen in place of see, saw and seen reveals that speakers don’t put irregular verbs together just by combining a stem and a suffix, the way they form many thousands of English regular verbs. Among the roughly 180 ‘approved’ irregular verbs now listed in grammars of American English, there is no verb with an -en suffix in the past as well as the perfect form.

So where does I seen it come from? It follows a more general pattern implicit in all the regular verbs and in many irregular ones as well. All of the regular verbs, such as need, needed,, and about 75 of the irregular ones, such as lead, led, led, have the same form in the past and present perfect, but a different form in the present. The see, seen, seen formation fits this more inclusive pattern, which can be stated as present differs from past and perfect; the past is like the perfect minus 'have.'

  • Interesting stuff. I've no first-hand knowledge, but I wonder how often Appalachian English simply means "uneducated/defective speech". A professor of linguistics at the City University of New York says it includes two "similar but different" variants (e.g., "I seen him" and "I saw him," or likewise: "I've seen him" and "I've saw him"). I have difficulty seeing how both can coexist within what I understand by "a regional dialect", which I would expect to be approximately internally consistent. Jul 14, 2013 at 1:33
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks for taking a look at what I found. From your link: "The group of related dialects known as Appalachian English are spoken primarily by communities in the central and southern portions of historical Appalachia, stretching from northern Alabama to southern Pennsylvania." So, it's not just one dialect, which would account for the variations. I tend to agree that AE sounds defective/uneducated, but John G Fought seems to know a lot more about it than me and, as you can see from my excerpt above, his view differs.
    – sarah
    Jul 14, 2013 at 5:48
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    @ sarah: I think in this day & age we can safely say adults who use incorrectly regularised forms for common verbs are generally poorly educated, with low social aspirations. The fact that there's "logic" to the regularisation (which is why most children do it to some degree before they learn better) hardly justifies putting it on a pedestal. By that logic we should all endorse seed for both past tense and past participle, but that variant is extremely rare, being thought of as defective by even the most rustic die-hards. Jul 14, 2013 at 14:45

It's probably not really people using seen instead of saw. It's eliding have into 've so much that it disappears completely. Or not hearing the muted 've in childhood, and repeating what you did hear. I don't think it's really what I'd call dialectal or regional - just uneducated/young/casual speech.

I'm not sure why OP objects to forms like I'm away to bed, or I'm away to fetch [whatever]. Sure, they're "informal". And more likely to occur in Scotland (where"Awa tae fuck wi ye!" is a common coarse dismissal). But they seem perfectly "grammatical" to me (just as with off instead of away).

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    I can't speak to OP's source but I've heard "I seen..." first-hand by folks whom I think didn't know any better, sad to say. Jun 30, 2013 at 0:13
  • @Kristina Lopez: Well, lots of people are really ignorant, and don't speak either well or consistently. Doesn't mean it's a "dialect". It's also an easy stereotype for "uneducated and/or rustic", for writers who probably wouldn't mix with the kind of people who really still speak that way into adulthood. Jun 30, 2013 at 0:26
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    It's not about the "have" or "'ve" (which everyone seems to think is "of" now, by the way) getting lost. Look at the meaning. The "seen" is definitely substituted for the correct "saw." In the OP's examples, the speaker doesn't mean "He has seen him at the shop the other day". The speaker means "He saw him at the shop the other day." Nor does speaker number two mean "I have seen" that you were looking for... I think of it as wrong, but I tend toward the dreaded prescriptivism. Probably it qualifies as a dialect. It's extremely common in lower socioeconoimic groups.
    – sarah
    Jun 30, 2013 at 2:20
  • @sarah: I honestly don't think it's that common among adults anywhere in the UK. Many if not most children (including middle-class ones) make such grammatical errors, but they usually grow out of it. I don't know "real" AAVE (only what I see in movies), so I don't know whether maybe they stick with it beyond adolescence. I speak from a British perspective anyway, but I'd be pretty sure "I'm away up the pub" isn't something AAVE speakers say! :) Jun 30, 2013 at 3:44
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    @FumbleFingers See my sources in my answer, below.
    – sarah
    Jul 14, 2013 at 0:22

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