Grammar Moses: It just ain't my day

  • "Ain't Misbehavin'" is how the song goes, but it turns out the word "ain't" has a long history as well as wide acceptance.

    "Ain't Misbehavin'" is how the song goes, but it turns out the word "ain't" has a long history as well as wide acceptance. Photo by Gretchen Kelley/Porchlight Theatre

Updated 12/25/2021 6:36 PM

Today's column will take you less time to dispatch than the Christmas ham and probably cause twice the dyspepsia. It has me.

If we're anything alike, you feel like you're having contractions after a hefty meal to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For those of you who don't celebrate him, please hang in there with my line of thinking.


I've been feeling contractions ever since I wrote about why "amn't" ain't a contraction for "am not."

Here is a heapin' helpin' of the bellyful I got from this column.


"There are a couple of obvious fixes to the contraction dilemmas you raised: A confusing 'there's' can be easily clarified with 'they be,' as in, 'They be 30 taquitos in the freezer,'" chimed in reader Jamie Smith. "And I'm sure you know that the solution to 'amn't' is 'h'aint' (as distinguished from the ghostly 'haint,' both of southern Appalachian origin). Gotter start gittin' y'all 'customed to the di'lect!"

Opinion Page Editor Jim Slusher had this to say:

"'Ain't' apparently begins as 'amn't,' a contraction for 'am not,' which you can still hear in Ireland and Scotland today. 'Ain't' is recorded in the early 1700s, with 'amn't' found a century before. 'Ain't' is also influenced by 'aren't,' the contraction for 'are not' recorded in the late 1600s."

And reader David Harding piled on with: 'You lament that the obvious contraction of 'am not' is essentially unpronounceable. That raises the question why the well-known and perfectly functional alternative carries such a deep stigma. Is it so far out of fashion that you were afraid to mention 'ain't'?"

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If these observations of the absence of "ain't" in my column weren't enough, two others pointed out that I miscategorized a part of speech.

"In your column, you wrote that 'box' is the object in 'There's a box of 30 taquitos from Costco in the freezer,'" wrote Jan Gollberg. "No, 'box' is the subject of the sentence. This becomes clear if you rewrite, eliminating 'There.' To wit: 'A box of 30 taquitos from Costco is in the freezer.'

"The problem with 'There' starting a sentence is that the subject comes after the verb, which can lead to subject-verb disagreement."

Touche, Jan.

And former English teacher Judy Scala dropped the vapors-inducing "predicate nominative" on me in her corrective message.

"You say that 'box' becomes the object in your corrected sentence. But the verb 'to be' doesn't take an object. Isn't 'box' a predicate nominative in that example? Or did you just mean that 'box' stands for the thing referred to in the sentence?"


Finally, somebody gives me an out. Truth be told, I was using the colloquial definition of "subject."

Now, please pass the Pepto.

(I must learn to) write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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