What is the meaning of the following line:

We ain't know what it meant

Putting ain't = aren't doesn't make sense. I'm left with putting ain't = haven't, but have requires the third form of know, which is known, and is not the case. If I put ain't = don't then it makes sense,

We don't know what it meant

But the dictionary doesn't say that ain't = don't. So please explain me the meaning of that line.

Thank you.

  • Form where did you quote the sentence? I have a hunch it's simply not-really-thought-about grammar.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:23
  • @MARamezani Type Ctrl+F and the sentense here, azlyrics.com/lyrics/eminem/yellowbrickroad.html
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:28
  • So it's the lyric of a song! My assumption of my hunch strengthens. But I'm not 100 percent sure, so I leave it as a comment.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:32

4 Answers 4


What is the meaning of the following line:

We ain't know what it meant

If you do a google search for 'we ain't know' you get quite a lot of returns for the phrase in a context in which didn't fits nicely.

These include:


We was young, we was dumb, we ain't know what was doing. But now that we older, older. Lets take these things slower, slower. Reset the button, button


And we ain't know just what he had in store. But now here we are ten years later, flows got greater. Bonds got closer, plus it's more haters

A lot of these uses of 'We ain't know' are in other rap songs. Rap has its own vocabulary.

In addition Wikipedia states:

some speakers of AAVE [African American Vernacular English] also use ain't instead of don't, doesn't, or didn't (e.g., I ain't know that).


We ain't know it 'til General Wheeler come thru and tell us. After that, de massa and missus let all de slaves go 'cepting me; they kept me to work in de house and ...

That seems to clear the matter up, since didn't fits the context of the rap song "Yellow Brick Road" by (Eminem).

Here is the opening part of Verse 3 of the song:

My first year in 9th grade, can't forget that day at school
It was cool till your man MC Shan came through
And said that Puma's The Brand 'cause the clan makes troops
It was rumors but man, god damn, they flew
Must've been true because man we done banned they shoes
I had the new ones the Cool J, Ice land swayed too
And we just through them in the trash like they yesterday's news
Guess who came through next, X-clan debut
Professor X vanglorious exists in a state of red, black, and green
With a key sissies now with this being a new trend
We don't fit in crackers is out with Cactus albums
Blackness is in, African symbols and medallions
Represents black power and we ain't know what it meant
Me and my man Howard and Butter, we would go to the mall with 'em
All over our necks like we're showing 'em off not knowing at all
We was being laughed at you ain't even half black
You ain't supposed to have that homie let me grab that
And that Flavor Flave clock we gonna have to snatch that

Again, ain't fits perfectly as didn't.

The song is an auto-biographical narrative in which Eminem hearkens back to his first day(s) in 9th grade (a grade he failed twice before dropping out of high school) and remembering various events and moments. Not surprisingly an important topic is brands of athletic shoes, including Puma.

Eminem is a cracker, semi-offensive slang for a poor white boy. He attends a school with lots of black students. They make fun of Eminem when he and his friends wear African symbols and medallions. In the middle of this Eminem says we ain't know what it meant.

Ain't occurs 5 times in the song. All five instances are in Verse 3.

For those interested, here is youtube version that has the lyrics scroll as they are recited. There are a few mild-ish swear words. Stanza 3 begins right after the repeated chorus at 2:57.

Last, while I was pondering this question, I wrote the following section. It does not seem as relevant now, but I'm including it so that it wasn't a wasted effort. It also shows that you cannot always trust dictionaries. But then again, I've never been impressed with the ODO.

Ain't usually signifies

  1. a negative form of to be

  2. the negative form have not / has not

(Note: One of the ODO's examples for has / have not actually means aren't. This is the first example under 1.1 "More Example Sentences". In this example 'Baseball's origins ain't found till they're found', ain't means aren't. Not only is this clear from the clause itself; but the title is an allusion to the famous axiom of former New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra: 'It ain't over till it's over.' In which ain't also signifies the verb to be. In English, axioms are stated in the present tense.)

  • How is the first example of meaning 2 is actually an example of meaning 1? The example is, they ain’t got nothing to say Here ain't != am not/are not, here ain't=haven't, they haven't got nothing to say.
    – user31782
    Jan 15, 2015 at 5:53
  • @user31782 I meant the first example under "More Example Sentences". I'll edit my post.
    – user6951
    Jan 15, 2015 at 5:59
  • What does ain't mean in if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
    – user31782
    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:11
  • If it isn't broke(n), don't fix it.
    – user6951
    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:41
  • I have asked it separately here. Could you explain in detail there.
    – user31782
    Jan 15, 2015 at 13:31


"Little Miss Prissy" http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/stray_cats/little_miss_prissy.html

Well I know a little lady, she lives down London way,

She talks and talks all night, but she ain't got much to say.

Here's another use of "ain't" as don't/doesn't. Ain't is mainly used as am/is/are not but can basically be used as a general negative helper verb. My father's family comes from a town that still doesn't have a traffic light, and I spend part of every vacation back home helping with the cattle and the hogs, so I hear "ain't" plenty.

(Sorry, having a horrific time editing this post for some reason.)

  • Is She ain't got = She hasn't got or She ain't got = She don't got?
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:49
  • I'd prefer "She doesn't have" but of what you've listed, "She hasn't got." Since 'got' is the main verb, ain't replaces the negative copula hasn't.
    – miltonaut
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:52
  • Where does in the song, that you have quoted, they use ain't as don't/doesn't?
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:54
  • OH, I SEE! Sorry! "She don't/doesn't got" is still bad grammar, but yes, that's how I was reading it. I should have made that more clear. It matches with your example. It could also be "She hasn't" if the sentence were different. When I replied to your comment a few minutes ago, I had been in the sci-fi stack exchange and was a bit slow to reconnect to ELL.
    – miltonaut
    Jan 14, 2015 at 11:07
  • So, she ain't got means she don't got? By the way are you native English speaker?
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 11:22

"ain't", substandard, can be used for: am/are/is not and have/has not. Sometimes it is even used for do/does not. It seems some people use it as a general marker for negation, even in Past tense. Seems like Afrikaans which has astonishing simplifications.

  • So what does ain't mean in the sentence the OP asks about? Because to me, so far it seems your answer is a comment, not an answer.
    – user6951
    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:51
  • @CarSmack - You've already said it in your post.
    – rogermue
    Jan 15, 2015 at 14:16

It's terrible (incorrect) English. But here ain't means didn't.

EDIT: or don't, if we're looking back on the past and still not knowing.

  • Shouldn't it be don't instead of didn't? The sentence is "We ain't know what it meant (the second form)."
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:36
  • 3
    I have been told that Eminem is a talented professional and my personal belief is that his songs are not likely to contain incorrect English. I believe that whatever native English speakers speak for communicating is correct English. Eminem must have used vernacular English in that line.
    – user31782
    Jan 14, 2015 at 15:39
  • 1
    I did read the answer. As an interviewer, I don't have time to get to know you personally. I am going to judge you by what comes out of your mouth. If it sounds dumb (by not being Standard English, which is expected in a job interview), then I will think that you are dumb. That's just reality. Jan 14, 2015 at 17:19
  • 2
    Educated African Americans speak both Standard English and AAVE. Just like educated folk from the South speak both Southern American and Standard English. The uneducated of both groups speak whatever they speak.
    – user6951
    Jan 14, 2015 at 19:24
  • 2
    Can you provide evidence that ain't means didn't here? How do you know it doesn't mean hadn't?
    – user6951
    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:54

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