Does this sentence make any sense to you as a native speaker? The one who said this actually meant to say, "People like you can never be sure about anything" (implying the opposite side is very ignorant), but this usage of "ain't" has never appeared anywhere I have seen; does it make any sense to say so?

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    I think we need a brief history of ain't. It started out (first recorded use 1706) as a perfectly respectable contraction for am not. In the 1800s, in the lower-class Cockney dialect, it began to be used as a general contraction for am not, is not, and are not. Respectable grammarians, appalled at the resulting lack of conjugation, started sneering disapprovingly at ain't, which led to its being seen as a vulgarism and being banished from respectable English. As a result we now have no good contraction for am not. Jun 19, 2011 at 12:37
  • see also: english.stackexchange.com/questions/29755/usage-of-aint
    – M4N
    Jun 19, 2011 at 21:05

4 Answers 4


Ain't is a common, normal slang word in English. It does make perfect sense, but it sounds very uneducated.

I would suggest that "ain't" is a rather archaic slang word. It's something that a gangster in the 1930s would say.

In that particular sentence, this form: "You ain't sure about nuthin'" is more common.

Ain't also has a historical interest. The first ever "talking movie" (movie with sound) was The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. The film is indeed an ordinary silent film for 20 minutes, just like any other "normal" film of the day, and then—this was astounding to the audience of the day—Jolson says: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet."

So, "ain't" was the 8th word ever uttered in the movies!

In fact, my grandfather who was a very keen movie-goer, was at one of the first performances of this first "talkie," and indeed he literally dropped his cigarette and fell off his chair at the moment when Jolson "opened his mouth and words came out." It's a great family story.

  • @Daisy Hi Daisy, it's my pleasure. I noticed you are a native speaker of another language. So, the important thing is to explain simply what is going on here. Yes, "ain't" is a very common English slang word. And, it's a bit "archaic". ("Classic slang?!") There's a catchphrase from a famous entertainer (Al Jolson) in the 1920s, "You ain't heard nothin' yet." (Meaning the best is yet to come, wait till you hear what is coming next, you thought that was good then wait for the next song, etc.) There was a bad pop song in the 70s? "You ain't seen nuthin' yet."
    – Fattie
    Jun 19, 2011 at 9:16
  • @Daisy added an anecdote for you in the edit ..
    – Fattie
    Jun 19, 2011 at 9:24
  • Gotcha, how did you tell that I'm not an native speaker of English, just because of my saying something about Chinese primary textbook or also because of my sucking English comments made here?
    – Daisy
    Jun 19, 2011 at 9:53
  • And BTW,the anecdote you added there is a really good one, I can't help laughting when I tried to imagine the pic of your grandfather dropped his cigaratte and fell off his chair, must be hilarious, thanks for your sharing:)
    – Daisy
    Jun 19, 2011 at 9:59
  • @Daisy Hi Daisy your English is incredible. The only thing I can say in Chinese is "hello" :-) Actually you mentioned in one question you are non-native-english-speaker. Cheers! Yes it is very funny about Grandpa George.
    – Fattie
    Jun 19, 2011 at 19:07

I'm not going to (or should I say "I ain't gonna"?) comment on the validity of "ain't"; I use it myself once in a while, mostly for dramatic emphasis. To me, ain't able is what jumps out at me - no-one I know would formulate a sentence that way; it just doesn't flow naturally.

Instead of "ain't able", most people would simply say can't - "You can't be sure about anything." However, that's not necessarily an insult: it could be a general philophical statement (we often say "you" when we mean "one" or "anyone"), or it could be a statement about the situation: "Since your husband has been lying to you, you can't be sure about anything."

To make it clear that you want to insult the person you're talking to, you could use capable: "You ain't capable of being sure about anything." However, "capable" is a fairly sophisticated word, and it clashes with "ain't". So I would go straight to very clear insults: You ain't got the brains to be sure of anything.

By the way - since "ain't" became a grammatically taboo word, the number of its meanings has actually increased. Originally (and legitimately) it meant "am not"; as @Peter Shor pointed out, it grew to mean "am not / is not / are not"; he didn't mention that it also can mean "have not / has not", when "to have" is being used as an auxiliary. "I ain't got no shame / Doing what I like to do" (from Porgy and Bess); "I ain't dead, I ain't done / I ain't scared, I ain't run" (T.I., No Matter What)

  • Wow, that's a lot to know, thanks for helping, especially this part "You ain't got the brains to be sure of anything". But shouldn't ain't always follow by negative, also called double-negative, so shouldn't it be "You ain't got the brains to be sure of NOthing."
    – Daisy
    Jun 20, 2011 at 11:33
  • @Daisy - There are some dialects where the double-negative form is common, and some where it's not; in my examples above, Porgy and Bess (with double negative) is set in 1912 South Carolina, while T.I. is a rapper from Atlanta (and the song was written in 2008). In addition, many casual users of "ain't" don't follow no rules at all! Because "ain't" is a taboo word, no schoolteacher is going to tell a child how to use it, only not to use it - so we all grow up copying what we hear, rather than learning rules for its use. All that being said, I do like your version better.
    – MT_Head
    Jun 20, 2011 at 16:39

Ain't can be defined as : am not, are not, is not, have not, has not, and do not

You ain't able to be sure about anything.

After reading that, I got the idea that the speaker is criticizing "You" for being indecisive. I suppose this is close enough to the "true" meaning. I'm sure ain't is used in an understandable way. I won't go as far to say its used correctly, because I ain't an expert.

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    "ain't" ain't what? Please finish your sentence, and the one who said this didn't mean to say the "YOU" being indecisive, he meant to say that "YOU" are moron enough to not know anything, which leads to that "YOU" can't be sure about of anything. I didn't make myself quite clear. Like, A said to B "I'm quite sure about this" and B replied scornfully “You ain't be able to be sure about anything."
    – Daisy
    Jun 19, 2011 at 6:08

Ain't is a contraction of all forms of be not in present tense (is not, are not, am not) as well as have not. It makes sense to use it here in your example, where it substitutes are not. Though it's considered vulgarism even now, I believe. See this article on ain't in The Free Dictionary.

I'm not a native speaker, so feel free to criticize if I've said something wrong. :)

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