When I typed ain't meaning in the search bar at Google, a result from the New Oxford American Dictionary appeared with the following example:

They ain't got nothing to say.

I have my doubts as to whether the use of the word nothing is correct or not.

Af far as my knowledge concerns, the sentence should be something like this: They ain't got anything / something to say.

Am I right? The word nothing is negative, and the word ain't is negative, too. We should not use two negatives, at least in this example, can we?

When they say: They ain't got nothing to say, it sounds like they have something to say!!

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    I haven't seen much eloquent prose with the word ain't squeezed in. The word ain't is considered informal English, and it's typically used in contexts where formal English rules are bent mightily. There's no "mistake" here; the dictionary editors ain't got nothing to worry about.
    – J.R.
    May 3, 2014 at 9:11
  • FYI Google uses Oxford Dictionaries. When you type "ain't meaning", it will return the same content as of this link. May 3, 2014 at 9:17
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    @J.R -What about saying: They ain't got anything to say. Does it still mean the same as " They ain't got nothing to say." ? I am not obssesed with grammar! :) and I understand you saying grammar rules are bent sometimes in informal sentences.
    – user5036
    May 3, 2014 at 9:38
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    The two sentences indeed have the same meaning; the word ain't rarely negates another negative in the sentence. Maulik V explained it well in his answer by saying it's "more idiomatic than grammatical."
    – J.R.
    May 3, 2014 at 9:48
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    Double negations are a special feature of substandard language, which has its own grammar. "They ain't got anything to say" would be the wrong grammar in that style of language.
    – rogermue
    May 3, 2014 at 19:03

2 Answers 2


This blew my mind for a while. Indeed, a very good question. This is the example of a negative concord.

They ain't got nothing to say means They don't have anything to say.

I think it is more idiomatic than grammatical.

Along with OxfordDictionaries, such phrase is also found on some authentic sources including Google Book Result (Behind Ghetto Walls).

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    Since ain't is non-standard, it's no surprise that the examples it appears in have other non-standard features such as negative concord. It's completely grammatical in many varieties of non-standard English, but if it were standard English it would be ungrammatical.
    – user230
    May 3, 2014 at 16:07

They ain't got nothing to say.

This means, "They don't have anything to say."

This is descriptively grammatically "correct" (read "regionally or socio-politically common, understandable, and correct") usage within certain dialects and even prescriptively correct grammar for some entire languages which employ "negative concord". Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_negative. It can be used as an emphasizer (instead of cancellation) or a required double negative that indicates a single negative.

Prescriptivists (such as editorial style guides) consider this "incorrect grammar" for Standard English.

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