A Guide to Southern Accents and Sayings

Updated on May 5, 2016

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

Source

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
Translation
Used in a sentence
ate
eat
Say grace be-fo-ah you ate.
be-fo-wah
before
Have we met be-fo-wah?
caint
can't
Aah caint fit into this wed-din dray-ess, Mama!
dawg
dog
You look lac a wet dawg.
Diddy
Daddy
Mama and Diddy sayd so!
faar
fire
Diddy's drive'n the faar-truck.
fellah
fellow, guy
He's such a swate fellah.
fo-wah
four or for
One, two, thray, fo-wah
git
get
Git your boots off the table!
gonna
going to
Aah'm gonna git you, Bubba!
lac
like
Aah lak your pick-up truck.
mare
marry
Aah'm gonna mare you one day, swate pay.
own
on
Come own, girl!
pay
pea
Ate your grayn pays, swatie.
ray-ed
red
He looks lac a ray-ed neck.
sayd
said
Cuz I sayd so.
scole
school
You best go back to scole.
swate
sweet
Aw, that baby possum's so swate.
taar
tire
Mah truck has a flat taar.
y'all
you all
Y'all come back now!
yellah
yellow
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

Source

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.

Questions & Answers

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        Carol Champagne 15 hours ago

        I am a writer from Kansas and I don't think most of us born and raised in Kansas have much of an accent. However, all of my family are from Arkansas. My story is about Southerners and usually I can close my eyes and imagine my father saying the word I need. But, I was puzzled as to how to write it. You have solved my problems. Thank you so much.

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        JWBaughan 7 days ago

        I'm from central Virginia and the Charleston accent is similar to our accent. It's the smallest dialect in the South, known as the Tidewater accent. It has localized spots around early settlements. It's dying out too. Experts say it will be obsolete soon. It is based on the earliest colonial days and is the old plantation accent of the upper class. I think public schools and outsiders are killing it. My grandchildren don't have much of it left. This year Virginia passed a line. We have more residents from elsewhere than native Virginians.

        It's kind of sad. All these people move here because they like this culture. Then they set about to change all our ways. My family has lived right here for 300 years and I'm thinking about moving deeper South to retire. I don't recognize my home anymore.

      • SClemmons profile image

        SClemmons 3 weeks ago from the Carolina Coast

        Some common expressions you can hear in North Carolina include:

        It's fixin' to rain

        That bucket is slam full

        My brother ran that dog slap over with his truck

        I can't go in that store..they run me off

        He laid out of work today

        He's at home piled up in the bed.

        That hammer you're looking for is over yonder

        I can't eat another bite, I'm plumb full

        If that boy keeps it up I'm going to wear him out with my belt

        It's not "hell no", it's pronounced "hail no."

        A person named Bill is pronounced "Beel"

        If you didn't hear something, it's not pardon me? It's "Do what now?"

        You don't "push a button" you "mash" it.

        LOL...That's all I can think of for the moment

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        Jack Reaping 3 weeks ago

        A: Usually the term "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." is more often said like "You get what you get and you don't pitch a fit." Replacing throw with pitch

        B: Growing up in Georgia, I never thought about the way I or other people talked. It wasn't until my family moved to Maryland that I noticed people didnt talk very much like I do. I have seldom heard people up here use "gonna" and "lemme" like I always have.

        My brother and I have an argument about whether my older brother has a southern accent. Reading this I can say he can, but not really.

        C: The southern accent basically shortens words a lot, sorta like what Shakespeare used in his play. It removes consonants and/or merges 2 words.

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        caitlyn 4 weeks ago

        i was born in north Carolina and i still talk southern we cant figure out why

      • SClemmons profile image

        SClemmons 5 weeks ago from the Carolina Coast

        I was born and raised here in North Carolina, and we don't talk like that here. Those pronunciations seem to be a bit exaggerated. And West Virginia is not a southern state. It was a union state during the civil war.

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        Ara 6 weeks ago

        I have a friend who is a Southern lady, and she pronounces 'teriyaki' and 'teriyaka'. Is this typical?

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        British Belle 2 months ago

        You say "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit" is a more Southern term? That's all I've ever heard from my family, and I live in California. Albeit, most of my family is from Oklahoma and Tennessee and places around there, but still. I have the weirdest "accent." My poppa on my mom's side was from London, and my great grandma on my dad's side is from Oklahoma, so I've got a mix of English and the Southern twang in my voice

      • profile image

        BigDiddy 2 months ago

        While I will agree with most of your usages, I can't help but notice that you seem to be following more of a Plantation English - or, old time rich Southern.

        I am from Georgia - been here all my life. I am accustomed to y'all, git, fixin-to and aaaa-ite (awlright or alright), but I aint never said "be-fo-wah"....

        "Swate"..naw hunny, it's still sweet...sometimes "shweet"

        "Yellah"...yeller

        "ovah"..this one is mixed. If I am saying "climb over", I pronounce it "over". If I am meaning its "over there", I say, "O-vair"..but you gotta nod in that same general direction as your meaning.

        I have also found that we have moved away from "taar" (tar) to a point where we overly annunciate the "i"...tYre.

        "sayd"..has become "told"..."I dun told you"

        "Skole"???..only if yer dippin' (skoal). It has always been school (skewl)

        I get the point, and the humor, but stressing the pronunciations like this just makes us sound dumber and civil war era-ish. We aint used some of these words in fuh-ever.

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        LittleDixieGirl71 3 months ago

        I love these articles on Southern Sayings! Only one thing, and please don't take it as a criticism, but you left Missouri out of the South.

        Missouri came into the Union in 1821 as a slave state and (informally) seceded in 1861. Missouri has historically been a southern state and is still widely populated by folks that came from southern states, mainly TN, VA and KY. My family has been there for many generations and migrated from TN, VA, KY, MD, NC, and SC. All settled in the area known as "Little Dixie" (aka Boonslick) which are the counties along the Missouri River and generally in the central part of the state. These were richest farming/plantation communities and the largest slave holding areas.

        With that said, I can attest to the fact that I grew up hearing lots and lots of Southern Sayings and all of my family has a nice, sweet drawl.

        Thank you!

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        Ryan Swan 5 months ago

        I'm from Arkansas, and I'll tell ya one thing right now, it ain't all jis quite like how you put it on here. Most the time my folks will pernounce the "i" in "like" as a long I sound instead of using what they call a dipthong where the i sorta turns halfway through into an e. I also heard, and this may be wrong, that the word "tump" is something unique to Arkansas. Ya use it kinda like dump, but on accident. Like you might, on purpose, dump out a bowl in the sink, but you might accidentally tump over a barrel of Papaw' s feed corn if ya ain't bein' careful. I noticed that, and it might just be me, we pernounce "of" not sp much as "uhv" but as "ahv". And it's several other things in that same vain that I could talk about, but y'all get the idea.

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        Loading.... 6 months ago

        Thanks. We were talking about the Oregon Trail and how they talked. This was very helpful

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        rahusain@ncsu.edu 8 months ago

        What about the implosives? Like 'g' in 'git her done', Where and when do these show up?

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        Frank 8 months ago

        I was absolutely fascinated when I joined the marine corps in the early 70's and found American Indians from the Oklahoma reservations that had the exact same dialect that I have here in nc. Were they part of the forced march trail of tears you think?

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        GG10 10 months ago

        This is a really helpful website for me 'cause we've got a school play that has southern American accents

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        Rai 11 months ago

        Amazing info...

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        Andy 11 months ago

        How would the word "boy" be pronounced and written? I'm writing a book and struggling for the right southern pronunciation.

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        Joseph 12 months ago

        HA.. I just threw my wife for a loop. She called from the store and asked if we needed LIMA beans.. I said no we need Lama beans. That went on for 10 min... Then she if asked we needed tomatoes...I replied no we don't need no matas. Pretty obvious I married a northern lady.

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        justwondering 12 months ago

        how do you say we all with a southern drawl? can you even?

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        Chessie 13 months ago

        Dear Miss Johnson, Thank you for such an interesting article! I very much enjoy listening to the Southern accent spoken, and I will surely be returning to this site so i can learn a little "Southern" by heart. Americans, hang on to your accents. Find out how your Great-Grandparents pronounced words and phrases, and learn them by heart so they can be taught to future generations. I try'da tawk as much Brooklyn, New York as possible. My Mother said that my Father used to say "chewn gum" for "chewing gum". He also loved Southern food.

      • profile image

        Yasin 14 months ago

        How do you pronounce "about" as if you were "about" to do something in a southern accent?

      • rls8994 profile image

        rls8994 15 months ago from Mississippi

        Loved this! Born and raised in Mississippi, now living in southern Louisiana, I have heard and used many of these sayings myself lol

      • greenmind profile image

        GreenMind 16 months ago from USA

        Great idea for a hub -- my southern-bred folks use these sayings all the time.

      • Whity Trash profile image

        Whity Trash 16 months ago

        hello to all

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        benny 17 months ago

        the dashes ain't that that long of a space, just very short

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        k8D 17 months ago

        I was a young nurse from the North working in a coronary care unit in good ol' Arkansas. I rushed to the bedside of a patient who I thought said over the intercom that she was in "bad pain" only to discover she only wanted a bed pan. I realized then that I had to learn a new language--- fast.

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        k8D 17 months ago

        I grew up in the North,but was exposed to people from Missouri quite often as I grew up. It doesn't bother me when people from Missouri or certain elderly people refer to this state as Missooruh. It grates on me when I hear an educated person not from the South pronouncing it this way. It seems affected to me. I finally felt the need to correct my dear friend who grew up in Seattle when it got to be too much for me. I'm not in the habit of correcting adults with accents different from mine. I might ask them to repeat what they are saying when I don't understand them.

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        anon 17 months ago

        I used to have to hide my accent for so long because I was different and didn't fit in up north when I visited Michigan they said I sounded terrible and that I should learn how to talk. So I told them they sound like a dyin possum in a trash can. The way I talk as an Oklahoman is no different than them it just sounds that way I was 12

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        natalie 17 months ago

        hi there can u tell me please what a richmond,virginia ,usa accent sounds like and describe it thanks ..

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        Jean Bush 17 months ago

        From VA and always say "winda" for window. Can't seem to break the habit. Haha!

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        Cole 18 months ago

        First off, who would EVER..... Pronounce "before" as BeFoWah? Literally I'm from the south I should know lol.

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        Angel 22 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'.

      • Gordan Zunar profile image

        Gordan Zunar 3 years ago from New York

        Nice article, I love accents.

      • john000 profile image

        John R Wilsdon 3 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.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        ChaplinSpeaks,

        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.

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        Beverly Cantrell 4 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!!

      • Ruby H Rose profile image

        Maree Michael Martin 4 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.

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        Eric 4 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.

      • nurseleah profile image

        Leah Wells-Marshburn 5 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!

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        Meade 5 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.

      • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
        Author

        Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

        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!

      • Alecia Murphy profile image

        Alecia Murphy 5 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
        Author

        Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

        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!

      • KristenN4Boys profile image

        KristenN4Boys 5 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.

      • Nalini Marquez profile image

        Nalini Marquez 5 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!

      • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
        Author

        Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

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

      • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
        Author

        Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

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

      • leahlefler profile image

        Leah Lefler 5 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!

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        Sid Kemp 5 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.

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