Photograph of the Angel of the North

Geordie grammar

Listen to examples of non-standard grammatical constructions that are typical of speech in Newcastle upon Tyne and Tyneside.
It is extremely difficult to collect examples of dialect grammar, compared with pronunciation or even vocabulary. In an interview lasting an hour, for instance, you are likely to hear most of the vowels and probably all the consonants, but very few if any non-standard grammatical constructions. You would not, for instance, expect to hear the past tense of every single verb in the English language, but you might expect to encounter every single consonant and vowel sound. In addition, many constructions turn out to be widespread nationally rather than regionally specific.

Listen to examples

The sections below give several examples of non-standard grammatical constructions typical of Tyneside. All the audio clips are taken from BBC interviews and represent current usage. They are from spontaneous conversation and so reflect the natural reflexes of the spoken grammar of Geordie. Click on the sound file to listen to speakers using the target construction. The list is by no means comprehensive, but it includes examples of distinctive local grammar, such as non-standard negatives and pronouns.

(All sound files © BBC. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.) 

Geordie verbal constructions

Geordie form: third person plural is

Standard English equivalent / explanation

are

Sound file

Five Pillars of Islam is, uhm, five rules which we, we live by

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: third person plural was

Standard English equivalent / explanation

were

Sound file

the cables was the best, cause that lasted years

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: there was + plural complement

Standard English equivalent / explanation

there were + plural complement

Sound file

there wasn’t any machines in them days

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: mustn’t have + past participle

Standard English equivalent / explanation

can't have + past participle

Sound file

the other thing there was never any shortage of seemed to be rice pudding; it mustn‘t’ve been on rations, but we usually got rice pudding


Geordie form: to be to + infinitive

Standard English equivalent / explanation

need to be + past participle

Sound file

would still be to feed

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: they call him/her/it ...

Standard English equivalent / explanation

he/she/it’s called ...

Sound file

I can remember the carthorse – the last one we had, they called him Jock

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: historic present

Standard English equivalent / explanation

The suffix <s> is added to all forms of the verb (I goes, we says goes, they asks etc.) – a narrative device used to create immediacy and heighten suspense when relating an anecdote

Sound file

the bairns now, they says, ‘Dad, we thought you were hard and you were hard then and we were frightened to talk to you’

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: past tense come

Standard English equivalent / explanation

came

Sound file

the water come out the mouth – it was like a lion’s face, but it, the water come out the mouth

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: past tense done

Standard English equivalent / explanation

did

Sound file

bought our house and, uh, it's the best thing we done, like

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: past tense eat

Standard English equivalent / explanation

ate

Sound file

vegetables was straight out the soil and we eat them


Geordie form: past tense give

Standard English equivalent / explanation

gave

Sound file

theory used to be if you chewed your fingernails or ate a grape pip or something, it went straight to your appendix and give you appendicitis

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: past participle give

Standard English equivalent / explanation

given

Sound file

now you know yourself, if you’ve give something to a good cause, you feel good about it


Geordie form: past tense run

Standard English equivalent / explanation

ran

Sound file

the club would put a trip on for we, but if we had to go down to Swalwell to get the train; so that was all right – we run down

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: past tense rang

Standard English equivalent / explanation

rung

Sound file

I’ve rang them and they've come out


Geordie form: past participle took

Standard English equivalent / explanation

taken

Sound file

was big baskets took with food and

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie nouns and pronouns

Geordie form: zero plural marker

Standard English

A small set of count nouns such as week, month, year, pound, stone and mile are commonly unmarked for plural in many varieties of non-standard English, while Standard English requires the plural suffix <-s>

Sound file

would be just 30 year ago, yes, aye

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: first person singular object us

Standard English

me

Sound file

used to get dropped off, off the bus in the mornings and, uhm, they picked us up on the way back


Geordie form: first person plural object we

Standard English

us

Sound file

she took we, she wouldn't let we go, I mean, she, she did, she'd always took we on these trips


Geordie form: second person plural yous

Standard English

you

Sound file

he says, ‘I’ll see yous in the woods!’


Geordie form: reflexive and emphatic pronouns

Standard English

The reflexive and emphatic pronouns in Geordie dialect (mysel, yoursel, hissel, hersel, oursels etc.) contrast with Standard English myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves etc.

Sound files

so, I used to sit in the, in the st, the bus stop, in the shelter, you know, just on the, on the ground and have my bait, by mysel

I think I, we had the best years, you know, for entertaining oursels


Geordie form: anticipatory pronoun

Standard English

In much of the North of England speakers frequently use a pronoun as an emphatic tag in expressions, such as I play football, me or he's a madman, him

Sound file

I’ve always had casual work, me, you know


Geordie form: determiner & demonstrative pronoun them

Standard English

those

Sound files

them days you didn’t, you didn’t live with lasses

you’ve got flat-irons here, haven’t you? yes, there they are, them are my mothers, look at the candlestick are these the same ones?

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: relative pronoun what

Standard English

that

Sound file

know, you know you pray on a mat or something clean, that somebody, you know, what nobody’s walked over

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: zero relative pronoun

Standard English

who/that

Sound file

father had three brothers _ lived round the next street

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie negative constructions

Geordie form: cannot

Standard English equivalent / explanation

can’t

Sound file

cannot speak for other people, really, can you?

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: do + negative particle = divven’t

Standard English equivalent / explanation

don’t

Sound file

divven’t think they’re right now, anyway

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: auxiliary contraction

Standard English equivalent / explanation

In much of the North of England and Scotland speakers favour forms of the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ with a fully articulated negative particle (I’ve not, you’ll not, she’s not and we’re not etc.) whilst speakers elsewhere tend to use a fully articulated verb with a reduced negative particle (I haven’t, you won’t, she isn’t and we aren’t etc.)

Sound files

I've just never seen a house with two upstairs rooms that are not connected

oh well, there’s, there’s only one door, there’s not a back door, there’s a front door

why, the tractor’ll not gan through a lot of snow

I mean, they’re not here now, but he fell in the stream and he sat, and we had a tent, and he sat, and it was a red-hot day, and he had to sit in the tent, till his clothes, his main clothes dried

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: multiple negation

Standard English equivalent / explanation

single negative particle, not

Sound file

know, you can't do nothing with them

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs

Geordie form: for to + infinitive

Standard English equivalent / explanation

to + infinitive

Sound file

people kept a few hens for to get a few eggs

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: bit + zero of

Standard English equivalent / explanation

of

Sound file

do a bit _ part-time teaching sometimes, I get teaching and that

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: conjunction so as

Standard English equivalent / explanation

so that

Sound file

a portion of mat, you see, for you to wipe your feet on and that, so’s you didn't dirty the yard


Geordie form: zero adverbial marker

Standard English equivalent / explanation

Adverbs are commonly unmarked for plural in many varieties of non-standard English, while Standard English requires the adverbial suffix <-ly>

Sound file

didn’t know you were doing it, yeah, you used to just do it automatic

Recordings where this feature also occurs


Geordie form: intensifers

Standard English equivalent / explanation

really, quite, very

Sound files

mean I’m lucky, I’ve been lucky – dead lucky!

she said she was fair sick of looking for these cows

and it was real nice in the woods

Recordings where this feature also occurs

Image credit: Banner photograph of Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North, Gateshead used with permission of Beautiful England Photos.

  • Jonnie Robinson
  • Jonnie Robinson is Lead Curator for Spoken English at the British Library. He has worked on two nationwide surveys of regional speech, the Survey of English Dialects and BBC Voices, and is on the editorial team for the journal English Today. In 2010/11 he co-curated the British Library exhibition Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices. His latest publication Evolving English WordBank: a glossary of present-day English dialect and slang (2015) draws on sound recordings made by visitors to the exhibition.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.