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 Contractions: 'aren't', 'haven't', 'isn't'

Julia Melnikova from Russia asks:

My question is not very serious, but I'd like to know what the contraction ain't means. I met it in the song of Chris de Burgh, 'Moonlight and roses'. 'Tonight there's a band, it ain't such a bad one / Play me a song, don't make it a sad one.'

I think it means 'not'. Am I right?


Roger replies:

You are right, Julia. 'It ain't' here could be re-written in standard English as 'it isn't' or 'it's not'.

'Ain't' is non-standard English, but is quite common in dialects and in colloquial forms of British and American English. So it is important to be able to recognise it, but not so important to be able to produce it in speech or writing. It is used as the contracted form of a number of different aspects of the verbs and auxiliary verbs 'to be' and 'to have', so it is quite useful, as you can see. It is the contracted form of:

'am not', 'are not', 'is not', 'have not' and 'has not'

It is often used with a second negative in the same clause, producing a double negative, which is ungrammatical, but quite normal in this variety of English:
  • 'You ain't goin' nowhere. You're stayin' right here.'
  • 'I ain't done it yet. No. I ain't 'ad a minute to meself.' (= myself).
  • 'I ain't Superman.'
  • 'It ain't right for Joan to tell Jane what to do.'
  • 'He still ain't returned that bike. How long's he 'ad it for now?'
  • 'You ain't finished your supper, Simon. Ain't you 'ungry, or what?'
  • 'It ain't arf 'ot in 'ere.'
The standard negative contractions of these two verbs, which you should be using, particularly in speech and in informal writing, are as follows. There are quite a few of them, as you can see. Note that he's not is the standard contracted form for both 'he has not' and 'he is not'. Note also that 'am not' is normally contracted to 'aren't' only in questions.
Full form
I am not I'm not I'm not going out this evening. I'm staying in.
Am I not? Aren't I? I'm too old for this sort of thing, aren't I?
We are not We're not We're not very happy with plans for tomorrow.
We are not We aren't We aren't going to Tom's party after all.
You are not You aren't But you're going, aren't you?
You are not You're not You're not yet 16. So you're not going clubbing.
They are not They aren't Those tomatoes - they aren't very red, are they?
They are not They're not They've just phoned to say they're not coming to dinner tonight.
He/she is not He/she isn't He/she isn't quite ready to take this exam.
He/she is not He's/she's not He's/she's not very clever, is he/she?
It is not It's not It's not very warm today, is it?
It is not It isn't It isn't going to rain, is it?
It has not It hasn't It hasn't rained for a long time.
It has not It's not It's not been long since I saw you.
He/she has not He's/she's not He's/she's not been to work today as he's/she's got a cold.
I have not I haven't I haven't seen you for ages. How are you?
I have not I've not I've not read that newspaper yet, so don't throw it away.
You have not You've not You've not finished your supper, Simon. Aren't you hungry tonight.
You have not You haven't I can see you've played this game before, haven't you?
They have not They've not They've not been to see Brenda's mother at all since she's been in hospital.
They have not They haven't They've already left, haven't they? The car's not in the drive.