James Klagge
James Klagge asked:

I believe that the sentence "Aren't I clever?" is acceptable. Of course, "I are clever" is not acceptable, nor is "Are I not clever?" Presumably the grammatical way to say this (it is spoken) is "Am I not clever?" but there is no contraction of this, such as "Amn't I clever?" (I have thought that perhaps this is the origin of "ain't"--as a version of "amn't".) So "aren't" becomes a stand-in for "amn't".

Derek I found this on www.entymonline.com, under the entry 'Ain't': "1706, originally a contraction of am not, and in proper use with that sense until it began to be used as a generic contraction for are not, is not, etc., in early 19c. Cockney dialect of London; popularized by representations of this in Dickens, etc., which led to the word being banished from correct English."

This entry is interesting for two reasons. (1) It shows the way in which popular literature can inform the evolution of the language, and (2) it suggests that perhaps 'ain't' is more correct than 'aren't' when used in sentences such as "Ain't I clever" vs. "Aren't I clever", although the latter sounds better to the ear.
Fiona Hurley In Ireland we use "amn't I?" in speech all the time (with an extra syllable, so it sounds more like "amint I?").
My guess is that the Cockney dialect tends to omit syllables (so you get "ain't", "innit", "'orrible") while the Irish dialect tends to add them (so you get "amint", "filum", "so-ap").
But in standard English, "amn't" is unpronounceable and therefore gets transformed into "aren't" and the non-standard usages get marked as "uneducated" and "ungrammatical".
Nancy Mills I am in the minority, I'm sure, when I say that "ain't" is correct.
James Klagge So, my question is whether others agree with my take on this. (I didn't get to put the question in, b/c I had already exceeded the maximum number of characters.) I am from NE Ohio, in case there are regional differences about this. I was surprised Pinker didn't address this.
Image for The Sense of Style
by Steven Pinker (Goodreads Author)
Rate this book
Clear rating

About Goodreads Q&A

Ask and answer questions about books!

You can pose questions to the Goodreads community with Reader Q&A, or ask your favorite author a question with Ask the Author.

See Featured Authors Answering Questions

Learn more