In movies I hear a lot of sentences like that in the title of the question spoken mainly by African Americans. As I understand it's the dialect version of the standard Present Perfect. I was wondering how in that dialect one would form a negative sentence in he Present Perfect.

He not done eat his breakfast.

He done not (donen't?) eat his breakfast.

Or maybe only affirmative sentences are possible with this construct, and the negative just follows the standard rules?

  • What do you mean by negative? "He still be eatin' his breakfast" or "He ain't et his breakfast"? Apr 13 '12 at 14:53
  • @PeterShor: The latter, naturally Apr 13 '12 at 15:35
  • Why naturally? The negative of "I've finished eating my breakfast" is "I'm still eating my breakfast". Apr 13 '12 at 17:57
  • @PeterShor: Semantically, yes. Grammatically (see the question tags) the negative is your second suggestion. :) Apr 13 '12 at 21:56
  • I have to disagree. Grammatically, the negative of "I've finished eating my breakfast" is "I've not finished eating my breakfast", which means the same thing as "I'm still eating my breakfast". Apr 13 '12 at 23:42

This dialect is referred to as African American Vernacular English, and it does in fact have its own set of internally consistent rules for such things.

One thing you have to realise here is that done in your sentence is used as an intensifier. It is saying that the action is not meerly completed, but authoratativly so. No doubt about it whatsoever. There isn't really an alaogous commonly-used intensifier for not being done.

However, ain't is a perfectly legitimate word in this dialect when negation is intended, and it also is used as sort of a mild intensifier.

So the simplest answer would be "He ain't done..."

One note of caution. Often dialog in moves and TV is not written (or delivered) by fluent AAVE speakers, so sometimes they get some of the details wrong. For instance, AAVE present tense verbs often lose inflection (eg: a trailing -s or -ing), but eat above is being used in the context of past tense. It feels wrong to me, but my AAVE is admittedly a bit rusty.

  • I feel that you might also hear "I hain't done" as well, with the h sound sneaking in for the vowelly subjects, but I don't have a good reference for that, other than my ears when I used to live down South.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Apr 13 '12 at 19:00
  • @KitFox - Wouldn't shock me in the slightest. AAVE is geographically very widespread, so there are many differences. It is also very closely related to southern (USA) dialects, and (IMHO) most probably initially radiated out from that region. All languages and dialects tend to show the greatest internal differences near their initial home area.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 13 '12 at 20:20

If I was going to put words in the mouth of a character from Gone with the Wind, I would use, "He ain't et his breakfast."

  • Or, "he hadn't eat..."
    – JeffSahol
    Apr 13 '12 at 12:29
  • @zpletan - Yes, I agree. 'detect' is a perfect choice.
    – user19148
    Apr 13 '12 at 12:36
  • 3
    Except he would say et instead of eat: "He ain't et his breakfast."
    – Robusto
    Apr 13 '12 at 12:38

I think it is "He not done eat his breakfast"


As a very non-standard piece of English, I would expect something like: "He ain't done eat[in'] his breakfast."

  • 1
    Or, "He didn't done eat his breakfast" Apr 13 '12 at 15:13

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