“You steady hopin' things don't fall down this week”

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’.
          (Baugh 1984:4)

b. It’s steady droppin’ calls.
(Scott 2016:53)

(1a) conveys that the woman being described is talking consistently or nonstop, while (1b) refers to a cellphone that keeps on consistently dropping calls.

T-shirt reading that reads 'We Steady Mobbin'

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).

Syntactic properties

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.
          (Baugh 1984:4)

b. They want to do they own thing, and you steady talking to them.
(Green 2002:72)

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.
          (Scott 2016:54)

b. I steady told them not to do that.
(Scott 2016:54)

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.
          (Baugh 1984:5)

b. *They steady having money.
(Green 2002:71)

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 2016:55)

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’.
     (Baugh 1984:4)

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.
          (Green 2002:246)

b. Some student I couldn’t see was steady singing.
(Green 2002:246)

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.
          (Scott 2016:57)

b. Although they apologized, she steady mad at them.
(Scott 2016:57)

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.
     (Baugh 1984:3)

However, Scott (2016:49) claims that for at least some speakers, steady is only acceptable before the verb.

Semantic properties

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.
      (Baugh 1984:10)

(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.
          (Scott 2016:61)

b. Y’all steady following me to the door!
(Scott 2016:62)

With other AAVE aspect markers

Steady can combine with perfective done and invariant be, which are also aspect markers:

12)  a. Them fools be steady hustlin' everybody they see.
          (Scott 2016:49)

b. I done steady told them.
(Scott 2016:54)

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 Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD).


Phenomenon Category: 
Tense, Aspect, Mood
Phenomenon Dialect: 
African American (Vernacular) English
Canadian English (including Newfoundland English)