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Nonstandard American English (I coulda been a contenda.)

Updated on December 21, 2013

 Good morning, kids. I'm hoping the rain won't make me too much of an English prude as I explore the ever-fun concept of nonstandard English. Before I even begin, I acknowledge that we all have lazy days in our communication and that thanks to texting (which I am pretty much addicted to), it is common for us to use shortcuts. I usually don't mind these informal acronyms and such. My only real pet peeve is when people type "LOL" after their own joke. If you must do it in response to someone else being funny, by all means, do so. But, please, do not laugh out loud at your own joke.

Moving on. Do any of these 'words' show up in your vocabulary?

coulda, could of, shoulda, should of, gonna, gotta, wanna

Remove them immediately. Please. Most people I've discussed this with acknowledge how 'coulda' and 'shoulda' are not words, but many are still convinced 'could of' and 'should of' are correct. I think the 'phrases' have been used so frequently and not corrected that they have become part of the lexicon. When trying to use any of the first four phrases, the word "have" makes it correct.

I could have gone, but I could not find anyone to go with me.

I should have gone regardless of the fact.

In a similar vein, gonna, gotta, and wanna should make their exits. 

'Gonna' is lazy for 'going to.' Many think 'gotta' is short for 'got to,' but it is actually used for 'have to.' Lastly, 'want to' is so much more pleasing to the ear than 'wanna.'

I am going to keep calling until I can speak with someone. I have to ask someone questions. I want to speak to someone instead of talking to a machine. But enough about my morning so far.

The next concepts are not so much nonstandard American English as they are word choices that are incorrect.

When I ask someone how they are, and they reply "I'm doing good," I cringe. That person had to throw in the word 'doing' and mess it all up. It is acceptable to say, "I am good." It's a little egocentric and vain, but it is a sentence. The word 'am' is a form of the 'be verb' and is thus a state of being. However, when an action verb (doing) is thrown in, 'well' must be used.

I am doing well.

Let's step away from the 'be' verb for a moment or two. My high school French teacher, a man I still hold up as one of my favorites, taught me this phrase: Good job. Well done. If you can remember this, you will not confuse the two words. 'Good' always describes a noun and 'well' always describes an action. 

I sing well. I am a good singer.

The same rule applies for bad and badly.

I run badly. I am a bad runner. (I'm working on it.)

You know that Rolling Stones song "Satisfaction"? I love it, too. However, it has a double negative in its chorus: "I can't get no satisfaction." If you look at this sentence, there are two 'negative' words in it: cannot and no. When you have such a combination, you have a double negative. The two negatives cancel each other out, and a positive remains. By claiming that they cannot get 'no,' they are in fact getting some.

He don't give me no money. When this is uttered, it is supposed to mean that this male is not giving the speaker any money. However, it means just the opposite, right?

So, to correct this, there are two common changes: remove one of the negative words or change 'no' to any.

First, let's change that "don't" to its grammatical 'doesn't' (or 'does not' if we want to avoid contractions).

He does not give me any money. or He gives me no money. Whichever you choose reflects your style, but these avoid double negatives.   

Moving on. There are some two-part words that are often misused. They revolved around the prefixes 'any', 'every', and 'some.' They do sound like they should be two separate words, but with some noted exceptions, they are not.

any: anybody, anyone, anything, anyway, anywhere (The 'word' anyways is nonstandard English. It is often misused.)

every: everybody, everyone, everything, everywhere... The exception here is 'every time.' When this word is used, it means each time. Every time I call I get the machine. (See commonly confused words for a bit on every day.)

some: somebody, someone, something, somewhere, sometime

Before leaving this sub-topic, "another" is one word, instead of 'an other.' The opposite rule applies for 'a lot,' which is always two words.

A lot of people request another refill when they go out to eat.  

One last thing today. It is far too big of a topic to get into here. However, be careful in your writing with mixed audiences that you do not use cliches.

It's raining cats and dogs today. I am feeling under the weather. Let's break the ice.

These are not meteorological terms. Someone unfamiliar with these expressions will be afraid to go outside. I love using them in fiction and memoir. I would never use them in formal writing. To end this on an amusing note, I want to share a brief story of a teaching moment maybe a year or so ago. I was teaching English to a man of French descent. He could not understand the expression 'poster' as in "The poster that was hung on the wall advertised the newest movie." According to my French friend, a 'poster' is what he calls a mail carrier. Imagine his shock when the mail carrier was hung to a wall and forced to advertise a new movie.

Okay, kids. I have to get back on the phone. I am going to be happy when everything works out my way. Until then, anyone have a topic they would like me to approach?


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    • profile image

      Binaya.Ghimire 5 years ago

      I liked your writing style, it is amusing. But in essence the article was informative

    • profile image

      Tracy 5 years ago

      So many pet peeves of mine that you've addressed here!!! I want to vomit when people say or type "should of" and "could of." Okay, so they misheard the words "should've" and "could've" and thought they included an "of," but didn't we learn this in grammar school? Don't we read enough to recongize that "of" is supposed to be "have"????

      Ready to attack THEY'RE, THEIR, and THERE? Another pet peeve of mine. And again, something we learned very early in life. How is it that so many people have forgotten it?

      I guess I shouldn't point fingers. I'm not perfect either. And I do LOL at my own jokes (sorry!). But we're entitled to our (not are) own pet peeves, right?

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 5 years ago

      Nag,nag,nag, however the points are well taken. The public is not on the American Standard English. America is so diverse now it difficult to understand what people are saying so words become fused. This is why you hear and see double negatives. The Stones made millions with " I can't get not satisfaction, Aretha Franklin made millions with Ain't no way. So, people begin to think what the heck. This is just my view.

    • Lyricallor profile image

      Lorna Lorraine 5 years ago from Croydon

      The delivery was indeed LOL funny! On a serious note, it was so refreshing to see people still appreciating Standard English in spite of the current climate.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      In my not-so-humble opinion, texting is ruining the use of English language for young people. The innumerable acronyms, code words and (to my eye) gibberish that stand in for actual words are becoming second nature to these kids. They THINK in texting! Spelling and grammar are major victims of the texting craze.

      You can probably guess I don't text at all. It isn't that I'm fighting technology. After all, I regularly use a computer and combination printer/scanner/copier, even though my cell phone--which I only keep for emergencies--is not "smart." It has no texting service and doesn't function as a camera. If I want to take a photo, I'll use my digital camera. I don't touch the screen, but must punch the rather large buttons that made this phone my choice. (Yes, it's the one advertised in AARP Magazine.) But, I digress....

      A 13-year-old who sends emails to me uses texting shortcuts so much in her messages that I can barely decipher what she writes. I keep reminding her that I "...don't speak texting....", but that seems to be the only way she can communicate in writing these days.

      I think the texting lexicon has become the norm, not only for younger kids, but for older ones and many adults. I'm afraid American Standard English will disappear--gone the way of the Dodo bird and dinosaurs!

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