Linguistic Features of AAVE

If dialects are so structured, and AAVE is a rule-following dialect, then what are the features that make it so?  Following is an explanation of some of the most distinct features of AAVE.


Lexically, AAVE is not very different from the dialects that surround it, and most of the vocabulary commonly associated with AAVE is in reality young people's slang disseminated by rap and popular culture.  While there are some words lexically unique to AAVE, for example, "crib" and "homey," the majority of its contrast with other dialects of English lies in its phonology and grammar. These are the most lasting and regular features of the dialect. (Rickford)


Phonology refers to the sounds that make up a language.  Here are some phonetic features of AAVE.

Consonant clusters at the end of words

When two consonants appear together at the end of a word, speakers of AAVE often drop one of them -- they are reduced.  This happens, to some extent, in every dialect of English, owing to the fact that two successive consonants are relatively difficult to enunciate.  In AAVE, this reduction is systematic.  It occurs according to rules.  Here are two major ones:

1. If the word following the consonant cluster starts with a consonant, it is more likely to reduce than if the next word starts with a vowel.

            West Side --> "wes side", vs. West End

2. A final -t or -d is less likely to be deleted if it is part of a past-tense marker -ed.

The "th" sounds

When occurring in the beginning of a word, the th- sound is pronounced as a d- sound.

        this, they, that --> dis, dey, dat

Within a word, -th (unvoiced) is frequently pronounced as an f sound.  This also occurs at the end of the word in certain environments.

        nothing, author --> nuffin, ahfuh

The voiced -th may be voiced as a v sound.

        brother --> bruvah

Grammatical Features

Use of the verb "be"

The copula, or conjugated "be" verb, is excluded in AAVE in certain environments. For example:

Future sentences with gonna:

        He ___ gon' go to the store.

        We ___ gonna go swimming.

Before verbs with progressive endings:

        He don't know what he ___ doing.

        Where ___ she going?

Before adjectives and locations:

        She ___ angry.

        He __ at home.

Before nouns or noun phrases:

        You ___ the one complaining.

        He ___ a hard man to please.

Verb Agreement

In English, verbs are marked to agree with the number of the corresponding subject.

        We are going out.
        He is going home.

In AAVE, this distinction is not usually made.

        They has a big house.

        They was going home.


The way in which AAVE marks negatives is different than, but just as regular as other varieties of English. For example, AAVE uses "ain't" in every position that standard English uses "haven't."

        I haven't gone yet --> I ain't gone yet

AAVE also allows double negation, a feature that is strongly stigmatized in standard English:

        I ain't drive no car.

        I ain't no little girl.

        I ain't see nothing.

(Sidnell, unless otherwise specified. Examples mine.)

Use of "be"

Some of the most noticeable and distinct features of AAVE are the different uses of the verb "be".  Standard English speakers frequently mistake use of this perfectly grammatical feature as an attempt to speak standard English that failed. In reality, this usage just follows grammatical rules that are unknown to non-speakers of AAVE.


"BIN" is a stressed form of been, which signifies that an action began a long time ago.

        She BIN had dat han'-made dress.
        She's had that hand-made dress for a long time, and still does.

"Be done"

"Be done" functions as a conditional perfect, a hypothetical future statement.

        Befo' you know it, he be done aced de tesses.
        Before you know it, he will have already aced the tests.

Habitual "be"

The invariant habitual 'be' is used to show that an action is done frequently.  "Invariant" signifies the fact that the verb is not conjugated, it is always in this form.

        Ah 'on know what homey be doin'.
        I don't know what my friend is usually doing.

(Information and examples, Rickford)

Regarding Grammar: A Note About Stigma