Been prospecting up there, but that stream's about panned out. Old Plugger and I done give it up. We're going on back into town.

Is this sentence grammatical? I saw it today in the movie A Million Ways to Die in the West (about 20 minutes in). The man who said it is a prospector. He gave up digging gold. Is "done" here an adverb or this is a special construction?

  • Before I give my answer, are you sure about this? It's basically the first time I read it that way..especially with "done".. – Scarl Sep 13 '14 at 7:56
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    Characters in movies often say "ungrammatical" sentences to make them sound like they have a certain cultural background. I probably wouldn't say, "I done give it up," but it wouldn't faze me if a movie character did. – J.R. Sep 13 '14 at 9:38
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    Dunno why others are surprised by this. I've heard it. Some people speak like that. It means I have given it up. Whether you want to consider it "acceptable" or not is up to you. – Drew Sep 13 '14 at 17:10
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    Completive done in AAVE and Southern vernacular AmE is typically followed by a past participle. The A Handbook of Varieties of English says "This auxiliary done in a verb phrase may aspectually mark a completed action or event, and may also designate intensity." (p.235) and gives the following examples: "He done asked her to marry him" "I done told you to take your shoes off before walkin' on that carpet". – user230 Sep 14 '14 at 12:23
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    However, the character's dialect and usage are somewhat different from this. Searching COHA, I see that historically done + plain present was more common, although whether the examples are genuine is questionable (they seem to appear in stereotyped dialogue). I can find a fair number of examples from 1880-1920. Perhaps the dialogue genuinely fits the dialect the character would have had at that time and place. I can't say; I'm unfamiliar with the details of the dialect in question. – user230 Sep 14 '14 at 12:24

"I done give it up" is US southern speech, from someone who is not "book educated". It is a kind of emphatic perfect tense that means "I have given it up."

> I said, give your brother back his hat!
> --But I done give it to him, pa. He's a dirty liar to say I still got it.
  • I kind of like it when they go "ungrammatical" because they're not "book educated" and you're basically correct – Scarl Sep 14 '14 at 3:50
  • @Tim Romano: The movie is about the West, the American frontier. – quintana43 Sep 14 '14 at 11:53
  • @quantana43: The frontier (the "Wild West") was a place inhabited only by indigenous native Americans at first. Americans of European descent, and later, to a lesser extent, from Africa, "went west". One would have heard (still hears today) many southernisms there. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 14 '14 at 12:58
  • @quintana43: sorry for misspelling your handle. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 14 '14 at 15:07

It's not "standard" American English. This kind of construction is sometimes seen in subsets of American English such as "Black" English.

A better (or at least more conventional) construction is I did give it up.

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