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What does “ain't” mean?

What's the difference between "you're not" and "you ain't" ("...coming home")? I do realize that ain't is a contraction of are not — but still.

Which of the two forms should be used and when? Which is the most formal/informal?


2 Answers 2


Ain't is informal, and it is a contraction for am not, are not, is not, has not, and have not. The last two were originally representing London dialect.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

They ain't got nothing to say.

The NOAD has a note about the use of ain't.

The use of ain't was widespread in the 18th century and is still perfectly normal in many dialects and informal contexts in both North America and Britain. Today, however, it does not form part of standard English and should not be used in formal contexts.

  • 2
    Ain't on its own doesn't stand-in for have not - for that you'd say ain't got.
    – immutabl
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 10:18
  • 8
    @5arx: ain't does stand in for have not when have is an auxiliary verb: e.g. "You ain't eaten" for "You have not eaten", or even "I ain't got it" for "I have not got it", though in London spoken English the Ts could turn to glottal stops.
    – Henry
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 11:09
  • 1
    @Henry that's a very good point.
    – immutabl
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 12:32

You ain't is colloquial, certainly informal and probably not Standard English. You're not, like all contractions, is also colloquial, but occasionally found in writing. If you are a foreign learner, the best advice is to avoid contractions in writing until you feel confident about where to use them, but contractions in speech will make you sound more natural. But you might still want to avoid you ain't.

  • 4
    Yes, where I grew up (NorthEastern US), as kids, if we heard another kid saying ain't we invariably broke into a chorus of, "Don't say ain't, your mother will faint, your father will fall in a bucket of paint."
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 15:04

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