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From what I know, "ain't" works as a negation in any tense or form. However, it doesn't take the form of the (first/second/third) person or the tense and so the verb following it does. What I mean is:

  1. He didn't help me.
  2. He ain't helped me.
  3. He ain't help me.

In (1) "did" already takes the form of the correct tense and person (in this case the same for all persons) and the verb following it ("help") is infinitive.

In (2) "ain't" doesn't take the form of the person or tense and so the verb ("helped") does.

The alternative (3) would be for the verb to stay infinitive, but as far as I know that is incorrect. Also, in this case there's no way to determine the tense someone is using (other than from the context).

Now, am I correct or am I wrong? Or maybe in different dialects (or slang varieties) "ain't" behaves differently?


Edit: To clarify—I know what "ain't" means, I'm asking about how to use it correctly in a sentence.

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  • 1
    Possible duplicate of What does "ain't" mean? It's also used for am not, is not, has not, have not., so example #2 above is okay in colloquial contexts. #3 is a very uneducated usage. Nov 14, 2015 at 18:44
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    Ain’t is a contraction for [am/is/are] not. It can also be used for [have/has] not. “You ain’t seen nothing yet” - “You haven’t seen [anything(nothing)] yet.”. “I ain’t got it” - “I haven’t got it”. “I ain’t stupid.” - “I am not stupid”. “We ain’t there yet.”-”We aren’t there yet.”
    – Jim
    Nov 14, 2015 at 18:48
  • Ain't is also used (perhaps more commonly) with an -ing form: (4) He ain't helping me. Generally ain't is used for a negative contraction of a be form, but occasionally it appears also for a negative contraction of a have form, as in (2). (3) is what (2) sounds like at normal speech rates, when /ent'hɛlptmi/ reduces to /en'ɛlpmi/ . Nov 14, 2015 at 18:48
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    They used to say that "ain't ain't a word". Clearly demonstrating the falsity of the statement. I think you wanted he ain't helping me. Nov 14, 2015 at 18:48
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    The obvious answer to "How does 'ain't' work?" is "It don't." Nov 18, 2015 at 21:09

2 Answers 2

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I don't think "He ain't helped me" is a valid use of ain't.

You would simply say "He hasn't helped me."

  • That ain't so (isn't)
  • I ain't happy (am not)
  • Thou ain't happy (aren't)
  • You ain't happy (aren't)
  • He ain't happy (isn't)
  • She ain't happy (isn't)
  • That ain't happy (isn't)
  • They ain't happy (aren't)

Going back to your original phrase, you can get away with saying "He 'an't helped me," which is a further contraction (and not formal English) of hasn't.

You can say "He ain't helping me" as in "He isn't helping me (right now)."

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  • You changed it to be wrong @Nonnal, I've re-edited it back. Thanks for the formatting though.
    – Cephlin
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:20
  • Ah, good catch and my apologies. I had never encountered "'an't" before and assumed it was a typo. Thanks for contributing a good answer.
    – Nonnal
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:28
  • It's more of a dialect thing, in Britain we have so many dialects that you can argue for all different ways of saying a word and still be orally correct.
    – Cephlin
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:31
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From the OED:

ain't /eint/ v.1 dial. and colloq.
[A contracted form of are not (see an't), used also for am not, is not, in the pop. dialect of London and elsewhere; hence in representations of Cockney speech in Dickens, etc, and subsequently in general informal use. The contraction is also found as a (somewhat outmoded) upper-class colloquialism. Cf. won't, don't, can't, shan't.]

ain't /eint/ v.2 dial. and vulg.
[var. hain't, have not, has not.]

Nowadays ain't is particularly useful as a substitute for the nonexistent contraction *amn't.
I would bet that some people hear it and use it as that naturally, and are only later told in "grammar school" that it's "bad grammar".

This is what always happens to any popular attempt to regularize grammar; ain't is unmarked for person or number -- it's a general-purpose present tense negative auxiliary verb, and it's useful not to hafta think about person or number agreement, while emphasizing negation.

Therefore, using ain't is a mark of "poor education", because it devalues the labor -- and therefore the superior social status -- of those who have mastered the "correct" conjugations of be and have, and know the official distinctions between the two auxiliary verbs.

Or at least that's how some people seem to feel.

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  • How does that answer my question?
    – NPS
    Nov 15, 2015 at 0:03
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    If you want to know how to use ain't in speech, use it the way you hear native speakers using it. If you don't hear native speakers using it, don't use it. And don't use it in writing at all. It's stigmatized and the rules for its usage depend on individual speech communities, which vary. Nov 15, 2015 at 0:27
  • Wow, I was completely unaware that this is something that British people say. I always thought it was a dialectical American word.
    – William
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:48
  • "amn't" is a contraction sometimes used in colloquial Scots e.g. "I'm good at writing comments, amn't I?" Feb 17, 2017 at 1:54
  • Most Americans come up with _ amn't_ independently in childhood, but it isn't encouraged. Feb 17, 2017 at 4:10

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