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Sure as Heck

Ask a Teacher - Sure As Heck
Ask a Teacher - Sure As Heck
Sure as Heck
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Hello! Welcome to Ask a Teacher. This week, we answer a question that relates not just to language, but also politeness and foreign policy. It comes from Hai in Vietnam. He writes,


I would highly appreciate it if you could let me know the meaning of this phrase: “It sure as heck ain’t good.”

Hai, Vietnam.


Dear Hai,

Thank you for writing to us and providing a link to the place where you read the sentence. The quote that you asked about is from a January 31 press conference at the White House. The Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, invited spokesman John Kirby to answer questions from reporters. One reporter said the European Union had recently offered to give Ukraine only half of what it had been promised. The reporter asked:

How bad is all this for the Ukrainian forces and do you see an impact on the battlefield already?

Kirby gave this answer:

It sure as heck ain’t good. And this is why we need the supplemental funding.

There are three things an English learner needs to know to understand Kirby’s answer. The first one has to do with the language that Kirby used.


“Heck” is in the class of words called euphemisms. They are words or expressions people use instead of saying something that might be offensive or could sound uneducated. “Heck” is a euphemism for the word “hell.” Kirby, like most government officials, is trying to use more formal language, but he also wants to bring attention to the serious nature of the problem. So, he uses “heck” instead of “hell,” a word that is much stronger. “Hell,” in many religions, is a very unpleasant place where bad people go.


The second thing learners need to know is the short form, “ain’t.” The contraction "ain't" is usually a short form of "am not," but it can also mean "is not" or "are not" as well as "have not" or "has not.” In our example, Kirby could have said, “It is not good.”

Like most informal contractions, we must tell you it is best to avoid "ain't" in all writing for school or work and in speech. For more information, see our Everyday Grammar on this subject, This Ain't It and Other Short Forms.


Kirby said: “It sure as heck ain’t good. And this is why we need the supplemental funding.” The United States Congress must approve all spending by the U.S. government. A supplemental funding request can be made to ask Congress to approve additional spending that has not been provided for in earlier spending legislation.

I hope this helps you understand Kirby’s comments, Hai.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

politenessn. the quality of being mindful of the feelings of others

impactn. influence or effect

supplementaladj. something added to another thing in order to increase or improve it

contractionn. a shortened form of a word or words

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