Submitted by amy on September 4, 2004

“I says”

Where did the grammatic mutilation “I says” come from? It only seems to be used in place of “I said” when someone is relating a story that happened in the past. Random example: “So last week I was talking to my friend, and I says, ‘What do you think about that?’”

Comments

Sort by

It's not proper english.

4 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Find "I says" here and show me that it's a variant of I SAID:

http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/cache/20.say.html

It wouldn't be a variant of a past tense (I said) for one thing. I says - you said - he said? How do you conjugate that?

How would this conjugate in present tense? I says - you say - he says? OR I says - you says - he says? "You says?" I guess I've actually heard that one too.

What does value judement have to do with whether something is grammatically correct? I'll tell you. Yes, it's a relaxed, conversational replacement for "I said," but it's a bad habit and won't help you in certain scenarios in your life, such as job interviews, the workplace, and first dates. Try to stop using your verbal bad habits as soon as you walk into work. It's not easy. My opinion stands.

Footnote: Maybe in the UK or somewhere else, it comes across differently than it does here.

4 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

The only time I ever hear that phrase is in movies with a character from NY or NJ or any other similar east coast state.
I have never heard it in real life.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

ladylucy,

What you call "proper English" is just one variant of the English language. There is nothing linguistically inferior about a language form simply because it isn't widespread or isn't acceptable in particular social contexts.

Conversations about what's appropriate in what we call "standard English" can take place without denigrating non-standard variants of English, and without making value judgments.

Any trained linguist will tell you the same.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

<snob> There are no inferior LANGUAGES... just the ignorant vernacular spoken by inferior PEOPLE. </snob>

KIDDING! I couldn't resist. That's the way the discussion seems to be trending.

Seriously, though... it's like practicing the piano. There are no wrong notes. There are only perfectly good notes played at the wrong time, in the wrong order, or in the wrong song.

Language is a bit like that. As we used to say in my family, "there are no bad words." There are only words used improperly. Proper usage is heavily dependent on context.

No, I wouldn't want to go into a job interview spouting "I says to him" and the like. But neither would I want to write a rap song as though I was addressing a literary society.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Seems like a valid value judgement to me, Dave :) Well, OK, at least from where I sit.

I think Anonymous is on to it. It seems to be used largely by actors to portray lower-class characters. So naturally the lower class, thinking that they were being accurately portrayed, picked it up and started to use it.

What? Me a snob? Say it ain't so. :D

Speaking of the word judgment/judgement, I use the variant spelling, also considered correct. I think it looks more graceful, less stodgy. YMMV.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Perhaps it was a "value judgment"; I don't know. I'm not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean, even.
And Anonymous: I'm from MN and hear it quite often in real life, although usually only from older people (for the most part 50+ I'd say). And they tend to be your average middle-class folks, not lower-class rednecks or anything. :P

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Daviderattigan, you said that "There is nothing linguistically inferior about a language form simply because it isn't ... acceptable in particular social contexts."

Actually, if a particular manner of speech is unacceptable in a particular social context, then wouldn't that be the very definition of "linguistically inferior"?

Yes, trained linguists avoid value judgements, but this is a matter of scientific objectivity. Linguistics experts may avoid such value judgements but others certainly don't. It would be irresponsible to tell someone that whatever they say is just fine with everyone when that's not the opinion of the world at large. We are all judged by how we speak all the time. The world is not the linguistic Shangri-la you are suggesting. Also, making a value judgement is not the same thing as being denigrating. Yes, "standard English" is far more vague a concept than many realize, nor is its use dictated for any particular forum. I would agree that different styles are appropriate for different environments. I would also agree that it's wrong to belittle someone for their speech patterns. But, face it, certain speech patterns are not considered acceptable to everyone everywhere. Fostering an understanding of this will only aid others in communicating effectively.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Ebonics is a very extreme variation of the English language. It is accepted as a form of the language, but only to the extent that it has to be addressed by language experts and social workers who are helping its speakers learn standard English, adjust to the school systems, and get worthwhile jobs.

I agree, speedwell, that there is a time and a place for formal speaking and for more relaxed conversation. That's why I brought up the job interview. Obviously I don't sit around flipping burgers with my friends and speaking perfect English. But I think we can only understand each other and learn from each other if we all speak (somewhat) the same language. If we get too sloppy (as in Ebonics) we'll become lost.

Dave. I hope you're not taking this personally or something. I don't necessarily think that calling it a lazy, bad habit is a value judgement from my personal standpoint. I am not judging the person; I am judging the habit. I didn't say that it is only used by lazy, bad people. I think you can understand the difference. I wouldn't refuse to be someone's friend because of that habit. I have several friends who often say "I says" and I don't notice it after a while. I'm sure I have a few lazy, bad verbal habits myself. But I am not lazy or bad either. However, I think a job interviewer or a first date might make a quicker personal judgement.

I just don't like how "I says" sounds. Sue me for being a stickler.

What happened to Amy?

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Eduardo,

I know perfectly well what a sentence is. I just removed some extraneous words and figured out what you were trying to say! It's a very tedious sentence. There are several prepositional phrases and a couple of conjunctions. It was mostly the prepositional phrase that you flipped around and ended in "to" that threw me off. It is becoming more acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition; at least that's what I hear. But, in a sentence with so many prepositional phrases, it's easier to understand it if none of the prepositions are separated from their object nouns. You might want to try it this way.

-"Polyglot" hopefully draws our attention to the social and psychological implications of the ridicule and belittling to which those students are often exposed by some teachers who disgracefully don't know any better.-

It's still tedious though. I would have been told by my college English professors and business writing instructors to simplify it or break it up. No, I don't need you to "dumb down" your writing. I can write equally complicated sentences, but I know they are tedious for people. Who has the energy to read them, especially on a message board?

You don't have to be a linguistics expert to bring up children. Don't worry about my children, please. You know nothing about them or their upbringing. You are now guilty of making a value judgment with very little information. To be honest, I frequently get compliments on the way that I bring up my children, academics being only one part of it.

I admit that I am not worldly. I don't "get around" in the world of language and linguistics. But I am no dummy. If I were, then this subject would not even interest me. I get it; the rules vary slightly from region to region. But I am not going to change the lessons that I teach my children. I just know that in the region where we are, "I says..." is not viewed as the best choice, and in the context of our world, I personally don't feel it is acceptable for my children to use. Unfortunately that might offend someone. Incidentally, I can often tell if someone is from another region, and I can understand the variations. I won't condemn them. I'm not totally living under a rock!

Black-and-white mentality is not always a bad thing. I admit I am a scientist at heart. I was a mathematics major, but always got good grades in English. It was mostly grammar, the black-and-white rules that they drilled into my head, that I understood best. I work in computers now. Yep.. black-and-white is my world. So sometimes it's best to understand where someone is coming from. Cut me some slack.

By the way, I won't stoop so low as to speak as offensively as you did, even to someone whom I will never meet. You just went too far.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

BTW, was "mutilation" intended as a value judgment?

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I am a foreign exchange student in Michigan and I hear it quite often. To be honest, It sounds a little stupid to me.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I have heard "I says" fairly often. Of course, I'm from New York. I don't use it myself. If you think about it, when relating a story, "I said...and he said...and she said...and you said" becomes pretty tedious. I think if you spend some time listening carefully to those around you, you will find that "...said..." is actually not used very frequently in the "correct" way. What you will hear is "...say/says...go/goes/went..." and my personal pet peeve: "...like..." Yes, it's exremely common to hear this. Example: "...And I, like, what are we going to do later? And he, like, I dunno. Let's go to the movies..." Yes, that's right. People use "like" in place of "said" all the time. A few decades ago, it was a teenage thing (think valley-girl stereotype, which, I think, popularized it). Now all those teenagers have grown up.

By the way, there are two issues here. First, the issue of tense. Really, there's nothing inherently wrong with telling a story in the present tense even if you're talking about events in the past. It's done all the time. It's a stylistic way of pulling in the listener, making him or her more involved in the tale. Jokes are almost always told in the present tense: "a guy walks into a bar and asks the bartender...", not "a guy walked into a bar..." So, "...he says...she says..." is usually fine.

Next is the issue of case mismatch. Clearly "I says" should be "I say" but "I says" is a somewhat common idiom (often written as "I sez" in litererature when portraying a colorful character).

As for "go/goes/went", this is also pretty common and was occasionally criticized quite some time ago, but is actually quite logical as well. "Go" doesn't have to mean only locomotion. It can also refer to taking any action, as in "Joe has a funny way of walking. He goes like this..." It's a reasonable extension of that meaning for "go" to refer to speech, i.e., equivalent to "said". In effect, such use is simply a metaphor.

As for "like", well, to me, at least, it makes no sense at all. It has, however, become ubiquitous. Amazingly, I have heard it come out of my wife's mouth and even my own from time to time (rarely)!

This all reminds me of the use of the very common case mismatch, "there's" when it should be "there are" or "there're" (Example: "there's three books you really should read." I would insist that this is bad grammar. I would also accept that I hear this from EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know, at least sometimes, no matter how prescriptively particular they are (including me!)

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I hear it all the time from my 14 y.o. niece (northern calif.)
She does it all the time - even when chatting on a messenger. Her friends do that too - I guess it's somehow in fashion among teenagers now.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Oh my god will you all stop relating this to shakespeare and calling it a fashion. its just an accent that people have who are from california or massachusetts, along with some other states. "I says" is just a way of saying i ""said."

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I'm from Massachusetts, and I do hear people saying it, although I never do. I hate to stereotype though. It's just lazy slang talk, a bad habit.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Eduardo,
Well, I guess you've got it all figured out. Haha! Here's what it comes down to: If I hear one of my children using the phrase "I says...," I will promptly correct him.

You wrote:
"Polyglot" hopefully draws our attention to the social and psychological implications of the ridicule and belittling those students are often exposed to by some teachers who disgracefully don't know any better.

Can you explain? I can't find a sentence here and I don't understand what you're saying. Maybe I'm just missing it because I'm not a linguist.

Cheers? Have fun? How? It wears me out to read your writing!!

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It's a confusion of tense. And then some.

(Are tense people confused?)

In the present, he "says". In the past, he "said".

If you have difficulty discerning the past and present, you might say "Last night, Joe came over and he says, ..." The added confusion comes from the elimination of the word "say" so everyone now "says" what they want:

He "says". She "says". And I "says". (But do They "says", too?)

Another explanation: it could just be an evil gypsy curse.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Ladylucy,

You deserve an apology.

Please accept my heartfelt regret for having insulted you and judged your parenting like that.

Though I felt I'd been insulted too, honestly I don't see the benefit of paying back. And, what's worse, there simply are no reasonable excuses for my having used your kids to hurt you. It was very mean-spirited of me, to say the least and I'm sincerely ashamed of that.

I agree on most of your points, my writing style included. I'll think about that.

I appreciate that in correcting your children's use of "I says" you are doing what feels right to you. Our children obviously rely on and benefit from our guidance on common sense and what is right and wrong.

However, I tend to think that well-meaning parents can sometimes underestimate their children's pragmatic sophistication and language awareness. Children are incredibly capable of sorting out and making reasonable choices from the language they are exposed to.

I feel that telling children that a given word or expression is simply not acceptable may end up instilling in them a negative attitude towards the people who choose to use that language. The excpetion being, of course, cuss words.

Children are also capable of learning so-called "grammatically correct language" (in a descriptive, rather than proscriptive sense) from their parents all the time. And being the level-headed, cultivated person you have shown me to be, I am sure you're the best role model for your kids in that.

What do you think?

Again, I'm monumentally sorry for having offended you the way I did. I acted like a total jerk, a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual and I'll understand if you don't want to even reply to this.

Take care. All the best.

Eduardo

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

First, let me commend Eduardo for attempting to bring a bit of objectivity to the subject. For some reason, language seems to be the one area where it is still socially permissible to make prejudiced statements about others: using the term "lazy" about the way someone speaks is the language equivalent of calling a person a "nigger", in my view.

I've encountered "I says" in Both AE and BE. In my experience, it actually follows a pretty clear pattern of use as a sort of "narrative" verb ("So he says... then I says...").

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It's used as the past tense of "said" in some dialects of English during the course of a narrative.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It is quite common in the UK.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I have never heard that phrase in my life o_0

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

hey is a superb post)) http://isays.in/ is a you Partener?

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Isn't that what posh, polite people say when they don't really know what to say? like if someone bulped really loudly without warning, they would say: 'Oh! I say!' while wearing a very surprised look.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I meant 'burped'

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

No, because it's not used in that sense (of surprise/embarrassment) at all. Mainly used when telling a story, as far as I can tell.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

According to David, isn't it more common to refer to oneself as third-person in England than in the US?
i.e. Hamlet page one:
"Ferancisco: Bernardo?
Bernardo: He."
I've got an English friend who never asks, "How are you?" He always says, "How's Goossun?" while directly addressing me. To my knowledge one hears this kind of speech more from English than Americans. Am I right?

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Mark Twain used "I says" constantly in "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" It is also used when you refer to yourself but in a different time and place.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Sounds like Uncle Remus.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Ladylucy wrote:
"What does value judement have to do with whether something is grammatically correct?"

What exactly Ladylucy do you mean by "grammatically correct"?

As a Brazilian, it is interesing to read the opinions expressed on here and find that, just like here in Brazil, there seem to be a few widely-held misconceptions on language .

I mean, everyone has the right to have a personal say on any given matter. But it's curious to note that, out of all sciences linguistics is the least one people generally rely on to voice their opinions and take actions.

Unlike linguists, grammarians are not scients who devote their lives to examine the phenomena involved in the language game. It's not to say that grammarians don't have a place and should be done away with.

But how would you feel if the FDA approved a new drug based on the opinion of a pharmacist? Or if National Geographic ran a ten-page report on a newfound rainforest mammal and which relied solely on the account by a local who swore he'd seen the thing?

This is exaclty what happens when language is discussed in Brazil -- and it seems that it's the same everywhere.

A damaging implication of such an attitude is the reinforcement of existing preconceptions and prejudice. As any linguist will tell you, language is not an entity that has a life of its own.

We tend to refer to language as if it were detached from the people who use it and such an assumption is a short step away from conceiving of one single ideal and proper form of language, attainable to a few priviledged and well-read minds only.

Simply put, language is just (a very important, if not fundamental) part of who we are. As hard as it is for grammar advocates to admit, inappropriate language = inappropriate people.

So, yes Ladylucy, you are passing a value judgement when you disregard or belittle a given linguistic heritage.

So let's instead make sure our children are respectful of other language variants and train them to gravitate from one variant to another -- even if it only means to respectfully learn how to listen to those variants because they are legitimate possibilities.

This way they'll be polyglot adults within the same language.

Cheers

Eduardo

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

"...they'll be polyglot adults within the same language."

This is nonsense. And you need to "take a chill pill," as the expression has it.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. I found it a little vague and simplistic though.

I hate to say this, but there are so many language myths going around, it would be hard for me to spell them out for you. This is why the sentence of mine you quoted may make no sense at first.

Being able to gravitate between the various registers and to appreciate the variations within the same language makes you, as any trained sociolinguist will tell you, a very versatile speaker.

The word polyglot is used to illustrate how much flexibility and mind work is involved in the process. Mind you, speaking a foreign language is one of the most magnificent works our mind can perform.

The word polyglot, according to sociolinguists, therefore captures the unheeded skill possessed by the students who speak non-standard variations of a given language and who have to interface and study in settings entirely conducted in a truly "foreign language" (here's another phrase you might like to quote).

"Polyglot" hopefully draws our attention to the social and psychological implications of the ridicule and belittling those students are often exposed to by some teachers who disgracefully don't know any better.

If you like reading, I strongly advise you get acquanited with some rudimentary notions on on the nature of language and on sociolinguistics.

Sorry to sound like a linguistics buff, but I'm sure that reading up on those will clear a lot of things for you.

Have fun

Eduardo.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

There is nothing "lazy" or "bad" about I SAYS. As Ben notes, it's just a variant of I SAID.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

First person pronoun with a verb ending in 's' follows very definite rules. So to call it ungrammatical is nonsense, though it's not part of standard English. I'm from Australia and use it myself.

1. Informal context.
2. Relating a story involving the speaker.
3. Not all verbs are affected. 'Be' and 'Have' remain first person.

"I've just finished the shopping and I'm going to my car when I sees this man etc."

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

ladylucy, the usage I hear most in my neighborhood conforms to what I know of Ebonics, in which verb forms are drastically simplified (I am not myself "Ebonic" so I'm not an expert). The present-tense conjugation turns out to be "I says, you says, he/she/it says, we says, you all says, they says." No kidding.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@porsche - I've just noticed this (a year late, but never mind) - "Actually, if a particular manner of speech is unacceptable in a particular social context, then wouldn't that be the very definition of "linguistically inferior"?" - I'm surprised at you, as you're usually pretty sensible about these things.

Standard English is simply the dialect that got lucky, and no dialect is superior or inferior in linguistic terms. And nor are non-standard dialects necessarily less complex or less grammatical than Standard English; they all have their own grammatical logic.

All we can say "if a particular manner of speech is unacceptable in a particular social context" is that some people see it as "socially inferior", that's all. So no, it certainly wouldn't be the very definition of "linguistically inferior", if such a concept existed.

Is a Yorkshireman "linguistically inferior" because he says "He were in't pub, stood at t'bar"? Or "there's nowt wrong with brass" or "tha shouldn't have done that, lad" ? Of course not. Linguistically different, that's all.

This is from Dickens - Tom Tiddler's Ground:

"But this morning I comes along this road here, looking for a sunny and soft spot to sleep in, and I sees this desolation and ruination. I’ve lived myself in desolation and ruination; I knows many a fellow-creetur that’s forced to live life long in desolation and ruination; and I sits me down and takes pity on it, as I casts my eyes about."

Dialect yes, but "linguistically inferior"? Poppycock.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Yes, in fact the verb form "I says/I knows/I sits" etc. is actually quite particular for those dialects that use it and is confined to situations where a personal narrative is being provided.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Oh, I agree. There is practically no situation in which you might say "I says" in which "I said" will not do better. (Unless, of course, you are animating the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor.)

And, incidentally, "value judgments" are perfectly appropriate. That is what we are doing every time we prefer one thing over another in any given situation. In the case at issue, we see that the usage "I said" is of inestimably greater value than the usage "I says" in practically all conceivable cases.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It's a dialectal variation on the "historic(al) present" (aka dramatic or narrative present) used, for example in jokes:

"This horse goes into a bar and orders a beer. Sorry, says the barman, we don't serve horses here. Oh, so you don't serve beefburgers, then? says the horse."

in newspapers - "Weather causes chaos on roads"

It's often used with "say" and "tell" - "Maggie tells me you two are getting married" - "She says you're to give her a ring sometime".

And there's a non-dialectal version of first-person "says"in narrative dialogues where "I say" is inverted:
"Have you come to help me", says he. "Not exactly", says I.
"Is that right?" says I, showing it to him. "It is, my lord," says he, looking at me as if I had two heads.

It seems we can also use it with "we"

"But the film's producers at Allied Artists found the scene unnerving (damn right, says we) and requested that director Don Siegel add a happy ending" (Google Books)

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

My co worker just said it. We work with the public. OMG she sounded stupid. LOl Not professional!

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Ladylucy,

You don't know what a sentence is, ma'am. I am sincerely worried about your children's well-being now.

Ok, I'll dumb my writing down for you.

The notion of "right" and "wrong" in language is unscientific; it draws from black-and-white mentality of the lowest kind. And you excel at that, I'll tell you this!

It seems that a simple question such as "what is language?" will stump you, Ladylucy.

So, do yourself a favor and just don't touch any book whose cover reads "Linguistics"! It may leave you with lifelong brain damage.

farewell

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

My neighbor says that all the time. She is an older woman from New York, just outside of the city.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment