I am not looking for explanations of why "I seen it" is wrong (though with sight there's an unfair grammatical burden that doesn't impact the other senses, whose past tense and past participle are the same - hear, heard, heard... feel, felt, felt... et cetera).

I want to know from the snoots here: in which circumstances might you actually say "I seen it."?

By way of explanation: my work sometimes takes me to places, and to people, where and to whom "I have seen it" would stand out as strange. So do I conform (let me hear you descriptivists!) or do I stand out (shout it out prescriptivists)?

Okay, I'm adding to my question here because there's been some negative feedback (some even calling the question "dumb"). I think it's a valid sociolinguistic question, not just one about what is said in certain dialects or which dialects use a certain expression. It's related to the issue of prestige (regular and covert), code switching, and perhaps a kind of circumstantial inversion of class aspiration.

That is, are there circumstances when you (fellow ELU members) might want to use restricted, rather than elaborated, code. Many - as evidenced by the most popular answer - flatly say "never." Others appear game to explore the idea, and there are some interesting answers that do indeed address my question.

I've chosen what I myself perceive as a fairly crass example (at least in my own speech community), one that seems to divide the educated from the uneducated. I realize this is not necessarily the case in all English-speaking regions, but it is in mine. I've chosen this because I found myself contemplating whether I myself would ever find it somehow useful to use it. To be honest, I don't think I could use it without feeling it was terribly affected.

I know it's incorrect grammatically. That doesn't mean it has no currency.

And I will not be offended if anyone considers the question crass by association (with the utterance at issue) or unenlightening and therefore chooses to simply ignore it and move on to another question.

  • 5
    I don't think I have said "I seen it" in my 65+ years of speaking English. I doubt if I'll start now.
    – tunny
    Nov 12, 2014 at 21:21
  • 2
    I have never heard anyone that I would consider educated say 'I seen it' in my life. Why would you say something that you admit you know is incorrect? Nov 12, 2014 at 21:23
  • 3
    The 'descriptive' answer is: "I have a feeling you're talking to people who speak a different dialect of English than you. That dialect is not used in newspapers or newscasts and is considered non-standard." The prescriptive one is: "I speak the right way and that is not the right way. You are speaking to me and so should change." Which do you think would go over best with your audience?
    – Mitch
    Nov 12, 2014 at 22:07
  • 4
    I doubt there are many people that say I have seen it, I've only ever heard, I've seen it.
    – Joe Dark
    Nov 12, 2014 at 22:11
  • 1
    Asking about which dialects of English this would be acceptable in would be a good question. Asking when people who don't speak one of those dialects would say it is just dumb. I'd recommend that you edit it to ask about which dialects this is acceptable in. Nov 13, 2014 at 2:49

8 Answers 8


"I wouldn't." (That's the answer you'd get from most people here, I bet.)

  • 2
    I'd bet similarly.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 12, 2014 at 23:07
  • But I'm asking people to speculate, to imagine, to step outside their day-to-day for a second...
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 12, 2014 at 23:33
  • 8
    if someone asked me to read this question's title out loud....
    – Oldcat
    Nov 12, 2014 at 23:34
  • 3
    @RustyTuba - If I were attempting to imitate the mode of speech of an uneducated person, I might say "I seen it", but that is me speaking with the voice of another person. I, personally, would never say it when speaking as myself.
    – tunny
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:20

I, as a Texan, will--in informal contexts and/or when talking with those whose main dialect is "Texan" or "Southern" (I don't think they're the same thang)--say I seen it with absolutely no tinge of embrassment or abasement when, for instance, a fellow Texan/Southerner "axe" me "You seen this movie yet?" and the question does not require the response I done seen it.

I also say "I might could" and "I'm fixin to."


"I've seen it" corrects the grammar and does not sound pretentious. Go for the subtly correct middle ground!

Whether and when to correct someone else's grammar, on the other hand--that probably requires a separate question. For one thing, you're getting into "correct" vs "dialect" and that is a very gray area. I would not walk into that quagmire--either the theoretical or the social one, but especially the social one--without a very good reason.

If you have employees that might embarrass the company when they are offsite, maybe. It's a hard question when one man's dialect is another man's incorrect grammar. I used to cringe when my very intelligent quantum physics professor pronounced "math" with an "f" at the end, because it made me embarrassed for him. He also used the "nook-you-lur" pronunciation of "nuclear". In my opinion, someone close to him should have had a gentle conversation with that man well before he received his PhD and told him that he was likely to come off as less educated than he was by using those pronunciations.

But I would not even think about doing that with an employee/coworker unless I really, really knew them well enough to know that they were not likely to sue me/the company for discrimination over it.

IF for some reason you feel you have to bring it up, find some way to put all the negative spin on the hoity-toity Yankees you are going to meet with. Tell them that there are certain Southern phrases that will kind of grate on the ears of these inexplicably picky northerners, so, for the sake of their pansy sensibilities, we have to practice how to speak Northern when we're up there.

But, like I said before, the question of when and whether to bring something like that up probably needs its own question.

  • It may correct the grammar, but it doesn't mean the same thing. You've changed past tense to present perfect.
    – wfaulk
    Nov 15, 2014 at 21:49
  • @wfaulk it depends on what the person was originally meaning to say--I'm pretty sure "I seen it" is used in place of both "I saw it" and "I've seen it". However, OP is asking about only one of those situations: 'By way of explanation: my work sometimes takes me to places, and to people, where and to whom "I have seen it" would stand out as strange.' If he only needed to replace with "I saw it", OP does not have a problem, he can just say that. Only when the correct phrasing is "I have seen it" does the question of pretentiousness come into play.
    – msouth
    Nov 17, 2014 at 5:35

Fundamentally, my answer is the same as Centaurus': I wouldn't.

I'm more interested in addressing the secondary questions you posed in the comments.

I mean, are there zero fathomable conversational/social circumstances in which you would knowingly break what you consider an acceptable (by your own definition) form? I'm curious about circumstances in which the hardcore language aficionados on this site would alter their speech in certain ways and whether they preach correct usage to those who don't give a damn

Of course there are circumstances when I would (and do!) speak in forms that would make my English teacher wince. My vehement rejection of "I seen it" is not because I am some paragon of English virtue.

You picked a fairly polarizing phrase, one that has strong connotations of certain regions/dialects and socio-economic backgrounds. Phrases like that are fraught with social peril. If you use it outside the region/dialect, you would be regarded with mockery, scorn, or strange looks. Even within the region, an "outsider" using the phrase would likely be viewed as laughable, ignorant or possibly even offensive.

One could argue that if you spend enough time someplace you might cease to be considered an outsider, but I'm not convinced. In my experience, saying 'y'all' with a Yankee accent gets you odd looks no matter how long you've lived in the South :)

So for those reasons, it is difficult for me to imagine a circumstance where I would ever use that particular phrase. Less-polarized phrases - that's another story.

As far as preaching goes, I believe modeling proper usage is far more effective. That doesn't mean you need to speak in stilted English all the time. As others have mentioned, "I've seen it" is a perfectly reasonable compromise.


Only when assuming strong Southern American English or AAVE for (likely comic) effect.

  • @RustyTuba - I see this as an answer to "when might you expect to hear someone else say 'I seen it'." Personally, I cannot imagine a situation where I would adopt such usage, even for comic effect (as it would potentially cause offense) or even when around that dialect (which I was for a time). So my answer would be the same as Centaurus: I wouldn't.
    – Lynn
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:25
  • @Lynn: I know that many people here wouldn't ever consider it, and they've been vocal about it. The bulk of the answers don't actually respond to the question "in what circumstances might you..."
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:51
  • @RustyTuba - But I don't see why you consider "none" to be invalid answer to "in what circumstances might you...". It is an honest answer.
    – Lynn
    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:16
  • Can verify that I've heard this from both dialects (making this a slightly better answer than @CarSmack's I'm afraid).
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:24
  • Any and all verifiable and anecdotal input welcome
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 13, 2014 at 2:07

During DIY rehab, I frequently employ an ESL laborer I have since become good friends with. I use the broken Spanish I've learned from him to say similar grammatically incorrect statements to him en espanol, easily understood. He uses his broken English to respond. Sometimes I respond in-kind, leaving out the same words he would. We both attempt to learn a little bit of each others language; but we've got work to do. Communication just has to be understood.

I'(ve) seen it. -When speaking the 've can become almost completely silent. Southern accents are a good point but that's something completely different. IMO these dialects are generally just full of laxed grammar.

When would it be said? Once influenced enough by your environment you will begin to accommodate other cultures' dialects and accents. Vacation in Alabama for a month; y'all be talkin' funny when you git home.

Personally I'd use it as a passive aggressive insult if I thought they should know better. Speaking to someone who has ESL, I first use the correct grammar that I think they'd expect, like on T.V. -once misunderstood I revert to how I think they would say it. I make no attempt to adjust the grammar of non-ESL's who "don't care".


"I seen it", albeit grammatically incorrect, may be used rhetorically in story telling. Enallage is a rhetorical device defined as "The deliberate misuse of grammar to characterize a speaker".

As an example, a daft character could state: "Sheriff! I seen it with my own two eyes! I sware it be true!"

Or it's fine if you're just hanging with your friends and you like the sound of it, thereby characterizing yourself.


I have seen the Grand Canyon or I saw the Grand Canyon. I didn't seen the Grand Canyon. Often I hear otherwise "educated" people say things like, "I seen a movie last night."

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