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Non-standard features in varieties of English

In the following tables, a number of commonly occurring non-standard features of varieties of English are listed. These are divided according to language level, i.e. phonology, morphology and syntax. The features occur in different varieties to different extents and the precise combination is unique in each case. Many of the features are retentions of archaic or dialectal traits, found in English at the time of early settlement of overseas locations. The status of features may change at a new location: a recessive feature may come to the fore and become an indicator of a new overseas variety, as may well have been the case with double modals in Appalachian English vis à vis forms of Scottish and Ulster English which provided the historical input to this variety.

The tables below do not contain information about specific structures which can clearly be traced to background languages at overseas locations, this is a matter for a discussion of the individual varieties in question. Furthermore, the tables do not contain lexical data. The reason for this is that vocabulary is an open class and tends to intergrate new items easily, for instance for the flora and fauna at an overseas location, so that a table of lexical items would be inordinately large compared to those for the other levels of language. In variety studies, lexical survivals can be used to establish historical connections between older and newer varieties or between varieties and background languages, see the discussion of such items in Holm (1994) with reference to the Caribbean.





1) Use of /i:/ for /ai/ with possessive pronoun my
2) Use of demonstrative pronouns for possessive pronouns: them boys
3) Distinctive form for the second person plural: ye, yez, youse
4) Use of objective forms for subject, e.g. us for we
5) Analogical levelling with reflexive pronouns: hisself, theirselves
6) Differences between weak and strong verbs
7) Reduced number of verb parts, e.g. seen and done as preterites
8) Contraction of am + not: amn’t or aren’t and of is + not: isn’t or ain’t
9) Epistemic negative must: He mustn’t be Scottish.
10) Be as auxiliary and in the negative: He is gone now.
11) Unmarked adverbs (deletion of final /i/): He’s awful busy these days
12) Unmarked plurals after numerals: It cost five pound.
13) Zero marking for plurals, often with numerals: He’s been here five year now
14) Residues of grammatical gender


1) Non-standard verbal concord: The boys wants to go home.
2) Narrative present with generalised -s: I hops out of the car and finds him lying on the ground.
3) Additional aspectual distinctions such as the habitual: He does be working all night.
4) Resultative perfective with participle after object: He has the book read.
5) A-prefixing for the continuous: They were afixing the car.
6) Negative concord: They don’t do nothing for nobody.
7) Range of the continuous form: She’s knowing lots of people from abroad.
8) Greater range of present tense: I know him since ten years at least.
9) Double modals: He might could come this evening.
10) Use of for with infinitives of purpose: He went out for to get some milk.
11) Deletion of copula and/or auxiliary: She a farmer’s daughter, He gone home now.
12) Tag concord: They live in London now, aren’t they?
13) Zero subject in relative clauses: There’s a man wants to see you.
14) Preference for that with animate antecedent: There’s a man wants to see you.
15) Double marking with comparative and superlative: It’s the most worst pub in town.
16) Resumptive pronouns: The house where you are in it now.
17) Never as past tense negative: I never done the work (= I didn’t do...)
18) Lack of negative attraction: Anyone wasn’t interested in linguistics.
19) Clefting for topicalisation: It’s too expensive the house was.
20) Clause structure (parataxis for hypotaxis). He stayed, he was tired.
21) Inversion with embedded questions: She asked him did he want more.
22) Passive with get: His car got stolen last week.
23) Positive anymore: He might want to come here anymore.
24) Different use of prepositions, e.g. on to express relevance: They broke the glass on me.
25) Overuse of the definite article: He asked the both of them, She likes the life in Dublin.


Hickey, Raymond 2003. ‘Rectifying a standard deficiency. Pronominal distinctions in varieties of English’, in: Irma Taavitsainen and Andreas H. Jucker (eds), Diachronic Perspectives on Address Term Systems, Pragmatics and Beyond, New Series, Vol. 107. Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 345-374.

Holm, John 1994. ‘English in the Caribbean’, in Burchfield, Robert (ed.) 1994. English in Britain and Overseas. Origins and Development. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. 5. Cambridge: University Press, pp. 328-81.