What does the contraction ain't mean? Is it appropriate to use it in formal settings?

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Ain't is the same as aren't and means are not but it is also used for am not, is not, has not, have not.

It definitely should not be used in formal settings.

  • 3
    According to @nohat's research in the linked question, it started life as a contraction of am not and are not both. I'm not quite sure how that works :-) – user1579 Jul 7 '11 at 11:06
  • The only thing that surprises me is that while contracting such terms, from where does i in ain't popped up in between while contracting am not or are not? It should have simply been an't. Isn't it? Or may be possibly it also tried to represent isn't abbreviation. – RBT Feb 3 '17 at 22:34
  • I remember reading somewhere (it was a book on the history of English usage and editing though I can't find the source now) that ain't and an't started out as competing contractions for am not in the 1700s. However, the ain't pronunciation was more common among the "vulgar" population of England--thus earning the ire of the upper class and those who actually wrote books. This, in turn, lead to its damnation as a proper word which was picked up by early prescriptivists. The same source postulated that the phrase "Aren't I?" was originally "An't I?" as the two words sound very similar. – user70564 Jun 17 '18 at 3:40

From the Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: ain't
Pronunciation: \ˈānt\
Etymology: contraction of are not

Quoting @nohat :

The common bit of schoolyard wisdom that “ain’t ain’t in the dictionary, so ain’t ain’t a word” turns out to be untrue. Every online dictionary that I’ve ever looked in contained an entry for ain’t.

It is a colloquial word, informal, so probably shouldn't be used in formal settings,unless you are a politican:)

  • The OED lists it too (it even has two entries!) – nico Jul 7 '11 at 6:41
  • Well LOL, OMG, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious are in online dictionaries. Does that make them real words? Even 'haz' as in "I can haz cheezburger" is in Meriam Webster's online unabridged dictionary. – redbmk Jul 7 '11 at 17:59

Replaceable with am not, is not, and are not. It used more informal/colloquial conversations.


Ain't is the short form of :am not,is not,are not,has not,have not But it's not suitable to use it in formal speech

  • 1
    Did you read Hugo's answer before posting this answer? Your answer is almost 100% identical. – user140086 May 9 '16 at 12:21
  • +1 for mentioning "am not" first, which is a key point that the other answers have missed; see dictionary.com/browse/ain-t. The word was, mid-1700's, a recognized contraction for "am not". As people started using it for other grammatical persons, it became effectively banned completely. A shame, really; it would be much preferable to the ungrammatical "Aren't I?" which has somehow gained acceptance. – CCTO Jun 19 at 20:22

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