I came across the phrase:

"don't somebody sure"

and would like help describing its grammar. The whole sentence is:

"Yeah, that's right," somebody else would say, "you better hold on to little Miss Bright-eyes, don't somebody sure going to take her away from you."1

The meaning's clear--"or else somebody is"--but I'm curious if this phrase represents a type of linguistic construction. Are there any analogous phrases which are formed similarly?

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    I would be tempted to add a little punctuation to that sentence to clarify how the grammar is being used. There is some conversational deletion going on, and maybe some other mechanisms. "You better hold on to [her] -- don't, somebody sure going to take her away from you". Note the addition of the emdash to introduce a new clause, and the comma to offset the ", somebody sure" part. Now, it's easier to see what has been omitted: "You better hold on to little Miss Bright-eyes, [if you] don't [then] someonebody [is] sure going to take her away from you".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:08
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    This is written dialog attempting to describe a nonstandard English dialect. It's probably not exact; the writer was trying to evoke a scene, not necessarily to make sense or speak correctly. In other words, don't worry if you don't understand it. Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:10
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    I don't think so, @DanBron: I can imagine hearing it, and I don't hear a comma after "don't". It looks to me as if "don't" has somehow become grammaticalised into a conjunction meaning "lest" in that dialect. Interesting.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:11
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    I've found another example: "Stay out of trouble, I guess, tend to your own business, don't somebody gonna kill you now, " source
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:16
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    @ColinFine I'm pretty sure Dan Bron's right: in my Southern US dialect (as well as AAVE) the contrast of don't with the prior mandative licenses the deletion of if you. Prof. Lawler can tell us whether this should be categorized as a true conversational deletion. It's not uncommon for a bare clause, without an if or when, to be employed as protasis: "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue." Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


I read this as, "[if you] don't, somebody is sure[ly] going to to take her away from you."

The word "sure" used as an adverb to "going"; the basic meaning is unchanged if you omit it.

Therefore, "don't somebody sure" isn't a phrase with a meaning in its own right, as illustrated by Colin Fine's example in the comments, above.

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