A Guide to Southern Accents and Sayings

Living in the South

Southern woman at the Carolina Cup horse races
Southern woman at the Carolina Cup horse races | Source

The Southern Accent

Living in South Carolina my entire life, I have always been surrounded by the Southern accent and the slow Southern drawl. The accent changes from southern state to southern state, and even city to city. I have a Charleston accent, which is actually quite different from the traditional Southern accent. Many people ask where I am from, because it does not quite match the general South Carolina accent.

As distinct as the British accent, the Southern accent means different things to different people. Some embrace the slow and friendly drawl, while others make fun of it. If you are not that familiar with the Southern accent and find yourself visiting or moving to a Southern state, you may need a this guide to translate and understand what is being said. No, it is not a separate language, but there is a noticeable accent, and we have different terms and sayings as well.

The Southern Drawl

The first noticeable thing about the way a Southerner talks, is the speed. Southerners are typically more laid back and that is reflected in the speech which has drawn-out vowel sounds. You will also notice words that run together like gonna (going to) and lem-me (let me). No, we are not "slow" or "backwards", but we usually take our time and enjoy life. Some find the Southern drawl irresistible. Think of Matthew McConaughey in the movie A Time to Kill.

Growing up, we had friends that moved to England for a year. When the girls first arrived at school, their new classmates would beg them to talk and then just squeal in delight over their Southern drawl and accent. Then there are others that assume a person with a Southern drawl is lazy and even ignorant - that is until they actually meet a real Southerner!

The US South


Southern Pronunciations

Southerners don't say I or eye the way you do. It is more of an aah with a short "a" sound. We also say mah for the word my, also with the short "a." So, for example, you may hear "Aah have an aah-lash in mah aah." (I have an eyelash in my eye.)

The word get does not rhyme with yet here in the South. We say it like git. There is a common rhyme teachers use at school when students complain about not getting their first choice. In the North, you might say: "You get what you get, so don't be upset." But, that does not rhyme for us. We say "You git what you git, so don't throw a fit." Pretty interesting, huh?

Southerners with a heavy country accent don't say tire like you do. It is more of a taar - that being one syllable instead of two. So you may hear "Lordy be, Aah've got a flat taar." (Oh no, I have a flat tire.) Or it may be, "Lem-me put mah feet up - Aah'm taard." (Let me put my feet up - I'm tired.) Fire follows the same rule and is pronounced faar.

The word can't in many small towns here actually rhymes with paint. Hmmm...maybe that is where ain't came from. Likewise, again is pronounced the way it looks, and rhymes with rain. The preposition on is pronounced own. So, you may hear something like "Aah caint put own mah bray-own shoes ah-gain." (I can't put on my brown shoes again.)

Translating Southern Pronunciations

Southern Pronunciation
Used in a sentence
Say grace be-fo-ah you ate.
Have we met be-fo-wah?
Aah caint fit into this wed-din dray-ess, Mama!
You look lac a wet dawg.
Mama and Diddy sayd so!
Diddy's drive'n the faar-truck.
fellow, guy
He's such a swate fellah.
four or for
One, two, thray, fo-wah
Git your boots off the table!
going to
Aah'm gonna git you, Bubba!
Aah lak your pick-up truck.
Aah'm gonna mare you one day, swate pay.
Come own, girl!
Ate your grayn pays, swatie.
He looks lac a ray-ed neck.
Cuz I sayd so.
You best go back to scole.
Aw, that baby possum's so swate.
Mah truck has a flat taar.
you all
Y'all come back now!
Give meh that yellah mustard for mah dawg.

Southern Terms and Sayings

The most famous Southern expression is y'all, which is an abbreviation for you all. The greeting Hey means Hello. A true Southerner would never ever say "Hello, you all" or "Hi, you guys." But, very often, you will hear "Hey, y'all." These are some other common Southern terms and sayings:

  • just pickin: teasing - Aw, come own now, Aah'm just pickin wid ya.
  • pitch a fit: complain - Don't pitch a fit about that dray-ess.
  • now: We throw that word in anywhere - Hey, now; Run along now; Now don't you git sassy with meh.
  • cut the light off: turn out the light - Cut the light off, Sugah.
  • fixin: getting ready to do something - Aah'm fixin to change that taar.
  • reckon: to figure or think - Aah reckon we kin make it in time.

Charleston, South Carolina


Gullah Children's Story as told by Louise Miller Cohen

The Charleston Southern Accent

Natives from Charleston, South Carolina have a unique Southern accent, and not so much the slow drawl of our neighbors. Our accent was affected by the local African-American Gullah dialect, as well as different European influences. We seem to avoid final and middle "r" sounds, so the name of our city is pronounced Chaahs-tun. Other words you may hear are :

  • riv-ah - river
  • ow-wah - our
  • pow-ah - power
  • few-cha - future
  • hee-yah - here
  • ovah - over

The pronunciation of house is strange. It is not quite hass, but more like hahss. So, you may hear "Now y'all come on ovah hee-yah to owwah rivah hahss for drinks." (Now you guys come on over here to our river house for drinks.) Even this particular accent has variation. There are some Charlestonians that clip their words a bit, so house is more like huss.

Charlestonians do not use Southern expressions like just pickin, though we do use the famous y'all. We don't say taar or faar, either, for tire and fire. It would be fair to say that the Charleston accent is less "country" sounding. There is very little, if any, twang, but definitely a different pronunciation of some words.

Sadly, the charming Charleston accent seems to be dying out. My grandmother spoke with a heavy accent, and my mother has some traces. My accent contains only hints, and my children even less.

Finding the Southern Accent

If you travel the South, you will notice some areas with a very strong twang, while others are less noticeable. In bigger cities like Charleston and Atlanta, you may not consistently hear the accent, because so many people from other places live there now. The stronger Southern accents are more widespread in the smaller towns and communities.

Comments 18 comments

SidKemp profile image

SidKemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

This is great fun, and fascinating. I've always enjoyed accents, particularly Southern. It's too bad that we all hear the same voices on TV now, and that local accents are fading.

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

This is fantastic! My grandfather was from Missouri (he pronounced it "Missourah") and said "far" for fire. There was a town near him called Leon, and they pronounced it "Lynn." I love accents!

ChaplinSpeaks profile image

ChaplinSpeaks 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina Author

Hi, Sid. I agree - it is so sad to see local accents disappear as the world becomes more and more connected.

ChaplinSpeaks profile image

ChaplinSpeaks 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina Author

Hi, Leah. I should have included a list of state name pronunciations! Georgia is often something like "Jaw-jah."

Nalini Marquez profile image

Nalini Marquez 4 years ago

I really enjoyed your hub on Southern accents. I find language fascinating. It's interesting how we view accents and how they can be viewed both positively and negatively, and how we're often quick to stigmatize or make judgements based on them. Accents and language are so tied to culture, location, history, etc. so I like learning about them.

The world IS becoming more connected, which can bring so many things but things are also lost in the process (which we often forget). I like that you made that point in your comments. Nice job!

KristenN4Boys profile image

KristenN4Boys 4 years ago from North Carolina

Being from the South myself, I can relate and resemble some of those remarks! ;) I don't say "reckon" or "yonder". But I do say "y'all"... a lot. Thanks for writing.

ChaplinSpeaks profile image

ChaplinSpeaks 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina Author

Hi, Kristen. I forgot about "yonder" - my grandmother used to say that. I hear "reckon" in the small towns around Columbia. Southern accent meets country accent is when the best words and expressions come up!

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I reckon not many folks here on HubPages don't understand what you're trying to say on this here hub. Okay I'll stop since I realize I probably sound like Foghorn Leghorn but as a North Carolinian I completely understand where you are coming from. When I babysat in college, one of the kids I babysat (his parents weren't native southerners) kept asking me why I said cut the the light off- didn't realize it was a southern thing until now. Fun hub!

ChaplinSpeaks profile image

ChaplinSpeaks 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina Author

Hi, Alecia. I didn't know "cut the light off" was a Southern thing until I was about 20 years old and visited a friend working out at Yellowstone Park. Her co-workers thought it was such a funny thing to say!

Meade 4 years ago

Interesting. I notice that the Charleston Accent has a lot of features similar to the Richmond, Virginia accent- especially "Rivah". That is definitely the non-rhotic influence. I think that most people confuse New England accents with that, but there is a big difference in how they drop their "r" vowels compared to how Southrons speak it.

nurseleah profile image

nurseleah 3 years ago from West Virginia

Oh, how wonderful! I'm from eastern Kentucky and find much of this familiar. The Southern drawl is not quite as pronounced there as it is in the more Southern states, but certainly, the vernacular is similar. Of course, we say "holler" for "hollow," as in "I live up a holler." "Dreckly" was a word a heard a lot as a child and it took me years to understand what it actually was. My grandparents often said they would be going here or there "dreckly." I finally asked my grandmother, and she got so tickled. She sounded it out all the way for me: di-rect-ly. As in "We will be leaving directly." Soon. I remember how surprised I was at the real word. When I went to NYC for a class trip in high school, I requested a cup of ice from a street vendor. He looked at me quizzically, then laughed and said, "I thought you just asked me for a cup of a-s-s!" It was the first time I had been in a Northern state, so I asked him how he said it, and he pronounced it the typical northern U.S. way. Oh! I didn't know ice could be pronounced like that!

I do find it sad that some people associate Southern speak with ignorance. It simply is a cultural difference and has no bearing on level of intelligence or even education. As a college professor, I have tried to use proper English so as not to be distracting to my students, but occasionally, when I am excited, it still pops out. It's a part of my heritage, and I'm not ashamed of it. Thank you so much for this article!

Eric 3 years ago

The one we find funny is in relation to the i sounding like ah, so when we say ice, you say ahs very familiar to ass. The best then is when you hear someone say they want to go for ice cream.

Ruby H Rose profile image

Ruby H Rose 2 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

I think there needs to be a class to teach us the old southern way of talking before it is completely gone. Much of my family has roots in the Carolina's and Missouri. Without the elders around I miss harin ole wys of sayun thangs. I love how you were able to "spell" it out for us. Much better than I just tried, thanks for the memories.

Beverly Cantrell 2 years ago

Someone linked this to me; and I've never realized until now how thick my accent is. No wonder anyone can understand me half the time!!

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


FAN--TAS--TIC! I mean, Whooo-eeeee! Slap my mammy! Loved this hub more than a new litter of puppies under a new rubber-tired wagon. Seriously. Voted up and all the way. Great work. Were you impressed with my Southern style of commenting?

Keep up the great work and I ask that you read one or two of my hubs, and I ask you to "please," be My Follower.

I would love that, Chaplin.

Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Al.

john000 profile image

john000 2 years ago from Superior, Arizona

I greatly enjoyed this hub. Your spellings for correct pronunciation were super. Surprisingly, I have always thought of a southern accent as somewhat sofisticated, not "country". During the Watergate hearings I can remember listening to men like Howard Baker (Tennessee), Fred Thompson (Georgia), and other times Sam Rayburn (Texas) and thinking that they had the best pointed questions and reactions to testifiers. They seemed ahead of the pack. I do enjoy listening to a Southern lawyer! Good hub, voted up.

Gordan Zunar profile image

Gordan Zunar 23 months ago from New York

Nice article, I love accents.

Angel 3 months ago

Came here to comment after reading the one about "git" and "get".

Ah, I remember "You git what you git so don't pitch a fit/You git what you git and you don't pitch a fit". One of the two.

Oh, and I'm commemting from my bed near/from the GA-TN line. I've been to SC, and y'all don't really sound that different. But that may be because I was visitin' distant family and stayed in the house the whole time.

I'll comment more if I find anythang interestin'.

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