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Let you finish

First, this.1 What catches the eye here is the silent “correction” in the transcription of what Kanye West actually said at the MTV awards: it wasn’t “I’m gonna let you finish” but — well, how to write it? This site offers “Ima”, “Im’ma”, “I’mma”, “Im a”, “I’ma”, and “Imma” (as well as a few “I’m gonna”s and even the odd forlorn “I’m going to”). Meanwhile, Hey Zeus in comments here offers the stylishly lowercase “imma”, and the (fascinating!) etymological investigations of Ella at Cherrier and Mark Liberman at Language Log prefer “Imma” and “I’ma”, respectively.

“Imma” is one of those usages that conservative wordfondlers love to rant is destroying the English language as we know it, so I’mma use it myself from now on just to annoy them. But it would be nice to settle on a standardized orthography! What do you think, readers?

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

  1. Via Ste.
  1. 1  Laurent  September 18, 2009, 11:08 am 

    Imma gonna hav’ta say ‘imma’ all the way. Becos’ afta all, we write gonna and wanna, don’t we?

  2. 2  richard  September 18, 2009, 1:18 pm 

    I wanted to write “Irma” but I got the error message:
    Your comment was a bit too short. Please go back and try again.

    Zawesome. So.


  3. 3  Adam Kotsko  September 18, 2009, 2:06 pm 

    Laurent, The contraction in question already includes the concept of “going to” or “gonna.” So using your spelling, it’d be, “Imma hafta say….”

  4. 4  Laurent  September 18, 2009, 2:12 pm 

    ha ha imma hafta agree.

  5. 5  matthew  September 18, 2009, 2:52 pm 

    None of these look right to me. I want to pronounce them like “Emma” or the first part of “image”. I’d prefer:

    I’m a let you finish

    because really the “I’m” isn’t involved in the contraction. It’s “going to” that becomes “a” (note Kayne doesn’t say “gonna” or “going to”). And this matches with any subject, not just the first person:

    Kayne’s a let you finish
    We all a let you finish


  6. 6  Hey Zeus  September 18, 2009, 3:22 pm 

    Matthew, Imma have to dis-agree with you on that. whils’ your point ’bout the contraction is succinct, if you tryin’ to apply the rules of grammar to written dialects you playin’ yo-self, dog.
    Crude phonetic interpretation wins out ev’ry time, ain’t that true though?

  7. 7  richard  September 18, 2009, 3:47 pm 

    re matthew: “I’m going to pink toothbrush”? Surely we can do better than total orthographic ambiguity with one of the most common of all expressions?

    Besides, how do we know Kanye didn’t mean “I’m reluctant to” or “Although I am kindly attempting to extend your time in the limelight through my apparently self-centred intervention, you must also place your own stamp on this soon-to-be-internet-propagated event. Therefore, addressing the awards ceremony organisers, I insist that after I conclude my grandstanding they must”?

  8. 8  Steven  September 18, 2009, 4:05 pm 

    The contraction in question already includes the concept of “going to” or “gonna.”

    But! According to one of the sources cited by the Language Log post linked above, there is a possible distinction of meaning between “I’ma” (soon; “I am about to”) and “I’m(a) gonna” (some time in the future).

  9. 9  Hey Zeus  September 18, 2009, 9:21 pm 

    so, simple future?

    ? = Imma let (you finish) ?
    += Imma let (you finish).
    – = I ain’t doin’ that shit.

    ? = You’ma let (me finish) ?
    + = You bes’ let (me finish).
    – = I’on’ remember askin’ you a God-damned thang.

    ? = He gon’ let (you finish)?
    + = She-a let (you finish).
    – = It ain’t done yit. Not by a long way.

  10. 10  Jeff Strabone  September 19, 2009, 5:53 am 

    At a minimum, the spelling ought to resemble the sound. ‘Imma’ and other possible double-M renderings have to be ruled out. The double-M would make the initial I short instead of long. There is no vowel that stays long before two M’s that I can think of. Because the initial I is long, we ought to limit the possibilities to single-m spellings:

    I’m a

    I have always used I’ma. Keeping the apostrophe preserves the contraction that is the base of the construction. Adding a second apostophe causes too many problems: confusion; visual clutter; establishing a new precedent of the two-apostrophe word.

    I’m a is interesting. The separate a reminds us of what has been elided: typically ‘gonna’ or ‘going to’. The problem with I’m a is that it is identical to the contraction followed by the indefinite article, as in I’m a hungy fellow.

  11. 11  andrew  September 19, 2009, 8:06 am 

    i’ma gonna take differenet tack to all of you and go for:
    I’m a-gonna
    which I think has more of an Englishy feel to it (abed, abroad, abaft) though maybe a little ye olde.

  12. 12  BenSix  September 19, 2009, 8:32 am 

    It’s not true…

  13. 13  Hey Zeus  September 19, 2009, 10:26 am 

    Jeff, I see what you mean about the short ‘i’ when there’s a double-m, but the precedent for the two-apostrophe word has long been set. You’d’ve heard it often enough but rarely written it.

  14. 14  Alan Palmer  September 19, 2009, 1:20 pm 

    I agree with andrew; I’d write it “I’m a-gonna …”

  15. 15  bfwebster  September 19, 2009, 9:38 pm 

    I’m a-voting for [I’m a] as well or, perhaps, [I’m a’] or even [I’m ‘a]. The “a-” construct has been around in English for a long time and still shows up today. “I’m a-thinking that…” or, as noted above, “I’m a-gonna knock your block off.” As with other, I think that West’s usage is a shortened version of either [a(-gonna)] or [(gonn)a], which are themselves shortened versions of [going to].

    It’s also the next logical step from the very common and widespread [I’m ‘onna] which, I daresay, we all use in conversation (“I’m ‘onna wack you upside the head.”). And though I agree with Obama’s assessment of West as a person, I actually like the [I’m a’]/[I’m ‘a] usage. ..bruce..

  16. 16  Tim Walters  September 19, 2009, 9:43 pm 

    I vote for “I’m-a”. Makes the pronunciation clear, without the ambiguity of “I’m a” that Jeff Strabone noted.

    My favorite instance:

    Microsoft motherfuckers let bygones be bygones/but since I’m Macintosh, I’m-a double click your icon

    The Coup, Me and Jesus The Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night

  17. 17  Sherry  September 19, 2009, 10:41 pm 

    I think Tim’s got it. I’m-a vote for “I’m-a.”

    The beauty of I’m-a (as @Fritinancy pointed out to me) is that a-gonna or a-voting become unnecessary. So it would be “I’m-a vote for…” or “I’m-a knock your block off…” Those pesky extra syllables become superfluous. That Kanye is a vastly underrated linguist.


  18. 18  dsquared  September 19, 2009, 11:43 pm 

    The phrase is clearly the American English “I’m a-going to let you finish”, with “gonna” dropped, so the correct apostrophisation is “I’m a-‘ [let …]”

    I think the only alternative argument is that there is a swallowed “gonn” between “I’m” and “a”, which would imply “I’m’a” and have voted accordingly.

  19. 19  Jerry Friedman  September 19, 2009, 11:51 pm 

    I feel sure that it’s for “I’m gonna” via “I’m’na”. And it’s spelled “I’ma” in Song of Solomon and Devil in a Blue Dress, which settles it for me (even if it’s “I’m a” in Beloved).

  20. 20  Mark F.  September 20, 2009, 2:01 am 

    I don’t think the “a” in “I’ma is the same as the first “a” In “I’m a gonna”. I’m pretty sure the “a” is the “gonna”.

  21. 21  John Cowan  September 20, 2009, 3:14 am 

    I’m for “I’m a-“, as in “I’m a-walkin out on you”. There is historical precedent for this.

  22. 22  Layra  September 20, 2009, 5:57 am 

    I’ve always used “I’ma” as the contraction of “I’m gonna”; I’ve never used nor actually heard either the “I’m a-gonna” nor the “I’ma” constructions before I started using “I’ma”, so my particular contraction doesn’t come from there.
    I think “I’ma” works better than I”‘m’a” or “I’m-a”, since it feels like a double contraction of “I’m going to”; in the case of going to becoming “gonna”, the “to” becomes a single letter attached to “going” without an apostrophe. So it feels like a second contraction in the same vein would turn “gonna” into a single letter attached to the word before, again without any intervening punctuation.

  23. 23  Steven  September 20, 2009, 11:39 am 

    I like the arguments for both Tim’s [I’m-a] and dsquared’s [I’m a-], so I’ve added them to the poll (though it may be a little late). If you voted for something else but would have voted for one of these had it been available, leave a comment and I’ll correct the numbers manually…

  24. 24  titmouse  September 20, 2009, 3:53 pm 

    Imma justing to life with fewer apstrophes, so I vote for “Imma.”

    Given the old meme:


    I would say that “Imma let you finish” will be the new meme. But “I’mma” is fine too.

  25. 25  Aaron Brown  September 20, 2009, 4:15 pm 

    I spell it “I’m ‘a” (not a choice in the poll — note the space). I don’t like the spellings with a double “m” because they look like they’re signalling a short “i”.

  26. 26  Hey Zeus  September 20, 2009, 4:25 pm 

    titmouse: did you notice how urban dictionary links all the words in the article with the exception of ‘imma’ and ‘da’ (shoop da whoop)?

    would anyone care to venture which part of speech this word takes when a spelilng is democratically decided on. It seems like a verb but also a preposition. I just can’t work it out.

    anybody got a TEFL?

  27. 27  Gordon P. Hemsley  September 20, 2009, 7:31 pm 

    As far as I’m concerned, the word is spelled “I’mma”. This maintains the apostrophe where it’s supposed to be, while also using the spelling convention of “gotta”, “wanna”, and “gonna”.

    Although I suppose it should be “I’m’a”, since it’s a contraction of “I’m gonna”. Oh well, I already voted.

  28. 28  Eric  September 21, 2009, 6:01 am 

    I get the impression, reading comments at Language Log, that people are voting who don’t have this word/phrase in their idiolects. I think voting should be limited to individuals with an intimate sense of how it “feels” and is used.

  29. 29  Hey Zeus  September 21, 2009, 7:27 am 

    I feel a very similar way about general elections.

  30. 30  Steven  September 21, 2009, 12:31 pm 

    There ought to be a way for me to indicate that I actually lol’d at a comment without resorting to smilies or words like lol. Perhaps there should be buttons that readers can press next to every comment, with icons signifying “I lol’d”, “I cried”, or “I hurled”?

    Anyway, Mr West is misquoted again here, this time as having said “I’ll let you finish”. I feel the lack of a generally agreed way of writing “I’ma” is to blame.

  31. 31  4ndyman  September 21, 2009, 6:36 pm 

    Since the “a” is a contraction of “gonna,” I think you need an apostrophe there to replace the “gonn”: i.e., I’m ‘a give you the mic back.

    Other local variations might come into play here, too: “I’m gon’ give you the mic back” “I’m ‘on’ give you the mic back.” “I’m ‘onna give you the mic back.” etc. I don’t think “I’m ‘a” should be treated special — it oughta follow the same “rules.”

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