Standard English uses a
conjugated be verb (called a copula) in a number
of different sentences. (This may occur as is,
's, are, 're, etc.) In AAVE this
verb is often not included. The frequency of inclusion
has been shown to depend on a variety of factors. Here
are some examples:
In future sentences
with gonna or gon (see below):
I don't care what
he say, you __ gon laugh.
...as long as i's kids
around he's gon play rough or however they're playing.
Before verbs with
the -ing or -in
I tell him to be
quiet because he don't know what he __ talking
I mean, he may say
something's out of place but he __ cleaning up behind
it and you can't get mad at him.
and expressions of location:
He __ all
And Alvin, he __ kind of
big, you know?
She __ at home. The club
__ on one corner, the Bock is on the other.
Before nouns (or
phrases with nouns)
He __ the one who
had to go try to pick up the peacock.
I say, you __ the one
jumping up to leave, not me.
Standard English varieties mark
grammatical agreement between the subject and predicate
in the present tense. If the subject is third person
singular (he, she, it or the name of a person or object),
an -s appears at the end of a regular verb. (e.g.
John walks to the store). In AAVE the verb is
rarely marked in this way. When regular verbs occur with
such -s marking, they often carry special
emphasis. Standard English also has agreement in a number
of irregular and frequently used verbs such as has
vs have and is vs are and was
vs were. In AAVE these distinctions are not
The verb in AAVE is often used
without any ending. As is the case with the English
creoles, there are some separate words that come before
the verb which show when or how something happens. These
are called "tense/aspect markers".
Past tense may be conveyed by
the surrounding discourse (with the help of adverbials
such as, for example, "last night", "three years ago",
"back in them days", etc., or by the use of conjunctions
which convey a sequence of actions (e.g. "then"), or by
the use of an ending as in standard English. The
frequency with which the -ed ending occurs depends
on a number of factors including the sounds which follow
Some past events are conveyed
by placing been before the verb. Speakers of
standard English may mistake this for the standard
English "present perfect" with the "have" or "has"
deleted. However the AAVE sentence with been is in fact
quite different from the standard English present
perfect. This can be seen by comparing two sentences such
as the following:
present perfect: He has been married.
AAVE been: He been
In the standard English
sentence the implication is that he is now no longer
married. However, in the AAVE sentence the implication is
quite the opposite: he is still married.
Sentences equivalent to
standard English perfects such as discussed above may be
conveyed by the use of done in AAVE. For example
the standard sentence "He has eaten his dinner" can be
expressed as He done eat his dinner.
Future events and those that
have not yet occurred are marked by gon or
gonna (see above).
Events in progress:
Besides using the verb with the
ending -ing or -in to convey that an event
is in progress, AAVE has a number of other words which
add particular nuances. For instance, if the activity is
vigorous and intentional, the sentence may include the
word steady. The item steady can be used to
mark actions that occur consistently or persistently, as
in Ricky Bell be steady steppin in them number
Events that occur habitually or
repeatedly are often marked by be in AAVE as in
She be working all the time.
AAVE has a number of ways of
marking negation. Like a number of other varieties of
English, AAVE uses ain't to negate the verb in a
simple sentence. In common with other nonstandard
dialects of English, AAVE uses ain't in standard
English sentences which use "haven't". For example
standard "I haven't seen him." is equivalent to AAVE I
ain't seen him. Unlike most other nonstandard
varieties of English, AAVE speakers also sometimes use
ain't for standard "didn't" as in the following
I ain't step on no
I said, "I ain't run the
stop sign," and he said, "you ran it!"
I ain't believe you that
As the first sentence above
shows, AAVE also allows negation to be marked in more
that one position in the sentence (so called double or
multiple negation). In this respect, AAVE resembles
French and a number of other Romance languages and also a
number of English creoles. Certain kinds of nouns
actually require negative marking in negative sentences.
In so far as the negation must be expressed with
indefinite nouns (e.g. "anything", "anyone" etc.), this
is a form of agreement marking. (e.g. I ain't see
AAVE also has a special
negative construction which linguists call "negative
inversion". An example from Toni Morrison's Song of
remembered as a pretty woods-wild girl "that
couldn't nobody put shoes on."
In this example (in the part in
italics), a negative auxiliary (couldn't) is moved
in front of the subject (nobody). Some other
examples illustrate this:
Ain't no white cop
gonna put his hands on me.
Can't nobody beat
Can't nobody say nothin'
to dem peoples!
Don' nobody say nothing
after that. (Ledbetter, born 1861)
Wasn't nobody in there
but me an' him. (Isom Moseley, born