Submitted by mel on February 25, 2009

Sleep / Asleep

I cannot stand when people say “sleep” instead of “asleep”. For example I’ve heard, “When I got home, he was sleep on the couch”. What is this laziness of not saying ASLEEP?? I have lived in the North all of my life, and most recently moved to the south. This must be some sort of “southern dialect”, annoying to say the least....Has anyone else encountered this?

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I only EVER hear/see Black people saying/writing it.

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It's one of the more annoying things that I've yet come across. Whenever I hear it, a Trick Daddy tune pops into my head.

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It's a morphosyntactic feature of African American English. Although to a speaker of Standard American English it appears to be a case of "asleep" vs "sleep", it’s actually the dropping (or the "zeroing") of the “ing” from the present progressive verb form “sleeping.” So, instead of saying “he is sleeping” the speaker says “he is sleep.”

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I was unsure of how to properly use sleep/asleep. Now I know!

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As a nativ Sutherner, I don't ever recall anyone saying, "He was sleep." That must be dialectical to a few small areas.

@AO the a- forefast (prefix) does not come from the ge- forefast. The a- has been in English since Old English/Anglo-Saxon. It was a common forefast ... much more common than now.

The ge-, for the most part has been lost in nativ English words. Gebur and gemoot are two that come to mind which are still found in the wordbooks. Enuff was once genog. Ge- did change to y- in a few words like yclept. However, today it's mostly found in German loanwords like gesundheit, gelande, asf ...

@Englishman ... The Brits hold no high ground in changing of English. The Brits stopped using the "proper" participle "gotten" long ago and seem to be fast losing the subjunctiv such as saying, "If I were ..." .

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People in the North say this as well but I have only heard people of color say it. Along with axe instead of ask and brefusse instead of breakfast.

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In the UK, Americans are that we accuse of not respecting and following the grammatical rules. And, now is funny that Americans are accusing one another.
I laughed so loud when heard an angry Somali cursing a customs official saying: "The you, the country, the fuck."

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I guess English is not your native/first language. It's more flexible and complicated than what your primary school teachers have taught you. Nowadays, English has lost the meanings and rules. So, get along and try to adopt the location and the situation.
Apology to whomever get offended.

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Not to sound racist or anything but I've only hear african americans say "sleep" as opposed to "asleep". I've lived in Mississippi most of my life and never heard it there. First heard it in Georgia and now in Florida. I find myself wanting to correct them when I hear it but I hold my toungue so I won't offend anyone.

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And why is it that Northerners can't understand the South's warmth in using incorrect words? For that matter, it's not so much incorrect as it is part of the Southern dialect. When you spell it "sleep" you make it look like they are using the wrong word altogether. When you spell it "'sleep", you show that it is a contraction of the correct word.

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They's too a-sleepy for to using the right grammers. lol

Srsly, no I've never encountered that misuse, and I have lived in Northern Arkansas for ten years.

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I have heard it as a dialectic form here in the Deep South. My father used to tell me I was "only sweet when you're 'sleep." I never thought of it as anything but baby/sleepy/love talk, i.e., "You 'sleep, sweetie?" I can't imagine it leaving the realm of late nights and lullabies.

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Why would anyone say this like this? Perhaps use the word "sleeping" instead....or "asleep" as you suggest, but if they are saying it way you explained, wrong wrong wrong.

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Etymologically, the "a-" in "asleep" comes from "on". The OED hints that this is also the source of the prefix in "a-fishing" and "a-hunting".

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I haven't actually heard this speech pattern in my area. I am curious. Do they only do it with a preceding "s" or is it with all other vowel or consonant combinations? I.e., I'm sleep, you're sleep, he would be sleep if..., etc.

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Yeah yeah, Porsche, I know... sheesh what was I thinking. I realized it when I wrote it and I wrote it anyway for some reason. Anyway, I think Ekskalibur's right: southerners aren't actually saying "when I got home, he was sleep on the couch." It just sounds like they're saying that because they're eliding the "a-." My guess, at least.

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I think what is the real issue here is that people aren't so much lazy, inasmuch as it is merely a connected speech issue.

Jo Hawk, if your Ss are using that in their writings, they simply need to be reminded the the written language is greatly different, and much more grammatically demanding, than that of the spoken.

I do agree with AO as far as the prefix is concerned, but I don't agree with the examples used to demonstrate his/her point.

(caveats: please excuse any typoes that may have occurred whilst typing from my wireless device.)

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AO, I don't think that follows from your analogy. Let me restate the true logical extension of your argument: "If you have a problem with people saying that they are sleep, then you should also have a problem with people saying that they are fish or hunt." Well, AO, I would think that most people WOULD have a problem with saying "they are fish or hunt". On trhe other hand, people would not have a problem with "they are fishing...", but that's analogous to people saying "they are sleeping", also OK by all, not "they are sleep".

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I think "asleep" is the...oh I can't remember the technical term. It's the same idea like "a-huntin'" or "a-fishin'" and comes from the Old English prefix "ge-." It implies that the verb is being enacted over some period of time I think. If you have a problem with people saying that they are sleep, then you should also have a problem with people saying that they are fishing or hunting.

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If you're not planning on moving back up to the North, then you better get used to hearing people talk differently than you.

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This is one I see frequently in my students' papers here in southern Virginia. :(

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i've lived in atlanta my whole life and i've always said asleep, but the southern dialect can be a little lazy at times and ive heard sleep too. not every southerner says it though

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Yes, I live in Texas and have heard similar here. I've also heard other things which would most likely send you into hysterics. ;-)

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I've actually wondered before if it's "a sleep" or "asleep" :-) I guess this answers that! And yes, my even wondering that is absurd now that I think about it ;-)

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