—Keep Ya Head Up, 2Pac
Steady is an aspect marker that precedes verbs, usually in the progressive form (ending with -ing), and indicates that the action being described is occurring consistently or intensely. It appears in sentences such as the following:
1) a. Her mouth is steady runnin’.
b. It’s steady droppin’ calls.
(1a) conveys that the woman being described is talking consistently or nonstop, while (1b) refers to a cellphone that keeps on consistently dropping calls.
Who says this?
Steady is characteristic of African American (Vernacular) English, and is used by AAVE speakers across the United States, as first identified by Baugh (1979). Scott (2016) focuses on the AAVE spoken in Louisiana, so this page will primarily describe that dialect.
Childs and Van Herk (2010) observe that Newfoundland English also uses steady as an aspect marker — however, this page will focus solely on the use of steady in AAVE, as there has been much more research on its use in that dialect.
Because steady is similar to standard English steadily both in terms of its meaning and in what syntactic contexts it may appear, it is less well-studied and well-known than other similar African American (Vernacular) English constructions like invariant be (Baugh 1984; Scott 2016).
Tense of the verb
Baugh (1984) observes that steady typically precedes verbs in the present progressive (with the ending -ing or -in’), as in the following sentences:
2) a. Them fools steady hustlin' everybody they see.
b. They want to do they own thing, and you steady talking to them.
Scott (2016) notes that steady can also precede verbs in the simple present, as in (3a), or the past, as in (3b), though this is less common.
3) a. I don’t know why she just steady mistreat us.
b. I steady told them not to do that.
Stative vs. eventive verbs
Both Baugh (1984) and Green (2002) claim that sentences with steady preceding a stative verb are ungrammatical, because steady describes the manner in which an action is performed, and stative verbs do not refer to actions.
4) a. *He is steady knowing the truth.
b. *They steady having money.
They both say that steady can therefore only precede eventive verbs.
In contrast, Scott (2016) found that some speakers accepted sentences with steady preceding the stative verb know, such as the following:
5) He steady knowing everybody’s business.
Scott argues that these sentences are acceptable because AAE allows know to appear in the progressive form (which stative verbs cannot usually do) when it expresses surprising or unexpected information. This in turns makes know compatible with steady.
Restrictions on the subject
Baugh (1984) argues that steady is only acceptable in sentences with a definite, specific, animate subject. He says, therefore, that the following sentence is ungrammatical because it has an indefinite subject:
6) *A boy be steady rappin’.
Green (2002) observes that indefinite subjects are possible when the subject is more thoroughly described, because the subject becomes specific:
7) a. A basketball player sitting way in the back was steady talking.
b. Some student I couldn’t see was steady singing.
With non-verbal predicates
Although steady most often precedes verbs, Scott (2016) also reports cases where it can precede prepositional phrases, as in (8a), or adjectives, as in (8b):
8) a. We steady on the road a lot.
b. Although they apologized, she steady mad at them.
Position in the sentence
Steady is most frequently found directly before the verb, but Baugh (1984) includes sentences where steady is sentence-final, following the verb:
9) All the homeboys be rappin' steady.
However, Scott (2016:49) claims that for at least some speakers, steady is only acceptable before the verb.
Baugh (1984:10) observes that steady differs from similar standard English constructions like always because it describes a single activity that is habitual, consistent or intense. Meanwhile, always can refer to several discrete past actions. This means that some speakers can use both always and steady in the same sentence without being redundant:
10) She was always steady jumping.
(10) would mean that every time I saw her she was jumping, and each of those times she was doing so intensely or consistently.
Scott (2016:61) also notes that steady can be used to indicate that the speaker is indignant, for instance if the action being described is being performed “persistently or stubbornly”, as in (11a), or when the action is undesirable and is being continued, as in (11b):
11) a. But she steady begging for hours.
b. Y’all steady following me to the door!
With other AAVE aspect markers
12) a. Them fools be steady hustlin' everybody they see.
b. I done steady told them.
Scott (2016:262) notes that the combination of perfective done and steady indicates that the speaker is particularly indignant.
When invariant be and steady are combined, be contributes that the activity being described is habitual, much like standard English always. Steady contributes that the activity is being done consistently or intensely. For example, (12a) could be glossed as “Those fools always keep on consistently hustling everybody they see” (Scott 2016:49), where be contributes the ‘always-like’ meaning and steady contributes a ‘consistently-like’ meaning. According to this description, this sentence could be uttered if every time you see “those fools,” they are hustling everybody they see, and on each of these instances they are hustling the whole time, without pause.
Page contributed by Katie Martin on July 25, 2018.
Please cite this page as: Martin, Katie. 2018. Steady. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/steady. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD).