• am •
Pronunciation: æm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, auxiliary
Meaning: First person singular of be. 1. To be identical with, as "I am Dr. Goodword." 2. To exist, as "I think, therefore. I am." 3. Used with participles to indicate aspect, (a) imperfective, "I am running," and (b) perfective: "I am done."
Notes: This auxiliary is usually contracted to 'm, as 'I'm OK,' but when we extend such statements, we use the second person contraction, 'I'm OK, aren't I?' We would never say, 'I aren't OK'. This is because the contraction of am is ain't.
In Play: In parts of Scotland, the contraction of am not is still amn't. But English outside Scotland tolerates the cluster MN only before vowels, e.g. amniotic, amnesia, but hymn, autumn, column. So, when amn't came to be pronounced [amt], the labial M assimilated to dental N before dental T, hence ain't. However, when speakers misused ain't with you, he, she, and it, ain't became demonized rather than have its usage corrected.
Word History: In many Indo-European languages the 1st person singular of the auxiliary verb meaning "be" contains an M: Latin sum, Armenian am, Albanian jam, Russian esm', Serbian (je)sam, and Sanskrit asmi. The best guess is that the Proto-Indo-European word was esmi, and the present tense root for "be" was es-. The past tense root was bheu-, accounting for be and been. Es-t- "is" ended up as is in English, ist in German, est in Latin and French, es in Spanish, and je(st) in Serbian. (After all the long Good Words, Janet Ann Collins thought a short one might be interesting today. She was right, don't you think?)