Ope, sorry! All you need to know about the Midwestern accent

Ope, sorry! All you need to know about the Midwestern accent

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated November 10, 2022

Now onto our next stop on the American accents map, America’s Heartland, the Midwest.

The Midwestern accent can be found in 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It’s called the Midwestern US because colonization began from the east coast of the United States. Early in the nation’s history, these were the westernmost territories. Today they are in the “mid” (middle) of the country.

The Midwest covers a large geographical area in the US. Early immigrants to this area were mainly German settlers. Language, food and cultural influences from Germany are still present to this day. For example, beer and bratwursts are commonly found throughout the Midwest. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the different Midwestern accents, some grammatical oddities and slang only found in the Midwest. 

What are the different Midwestern accents?

This accent has three regional variations. Many people are familiar with the characteristics of the Midwestern accent portrayed in the movie Fargo. This is just one example.

YouTube video

There are three regional dialects of Midwest accent: Midland American English, Inland Northern American English and North Central American English.

Midland American English 

Midland American English speakers are found in Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and parts of Illinois. This accent is the closest to what is called General American English, the English that most Americans speak. Many national newscasters are from this area of the Midwest. Most speakers of this Midwestern dialect don’t think they have any accent. 

Characteristics of Midland American English are the word pairs cot-caught and Don-Dawn. Cot and caught are pronounced the same. So are Don and Dawn.  In other areas of the United States like New England, different vowels are pronounced. 

Inland Northern American English

The Inland Northern American English dialect can be heard in western New York and the Great Lakes region, including Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit. It’s called the Great Lakes accent or the Chicago accent. A strong Chicago accent was famously satirized on Saturday Night Live

YouTube video

North Central American English

North Central American English is also known as the Upper Midwestern accent and is associated with Minnesota and Wisconsin. Midwestern accent words and phrases such as “doncha know”, “oh ya”, “you betcha”, and “jeez” are commonly used. 

Don Ness, former mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, is a good example of the North Central American English dialect. 

Grammatical oddities found in the Midwestern accent

An example of grammatical construction in the Midwestern accent is the addition of an ‘s’ to the word all. 

  • “Alls we did was drive around.” 
  • “Alls I want to say is let’s get on the road.” 
  • “Alls he wants to do is go fishing.” 

Dangling prepositions are also common:

Dangling prepositionMeaningExample
Come with. Inviting someone to join you for an activity. I’m going to the movies with my cousin tonight. You should come with. 
Where at?Asking where something or someone is locatedSara: I went to a great restaurant last weekend.                 Susan: Where at?

Midwestern Slang

Every region in the United States has its own slang. The Midwest is no different. Here are a few Midwestern accent examples and slang.

Midwestern slangMeaningExample
OpeAn expression to acknowledge a mistake or minor accident, often as part of an apologyAfter bumping into someone.
Ope, sorry!
BubblerDrinking fountain, mainly used in WisconsinIs there a bubbler around here? I’m dying of thirst. 
JeezExpression used to show surprise or annoyanceSnow is predicted in late April? Jeez.
No yeahYesDo you want to go hiking this weekend? 
No yeah. 
Yeah noNoDo you want to go camping this weekend? 
Yeah no
Stop and go lightTraffic signalThere was so much traffic. I was stuck at the stop and go light forever. 
PopsodaAny pop in the fridge? 

No yeah, let’s practice the Midwestern accent

The Midwestern accent has been stereotypically portrayed in pop culture. In the movie Fargo and on Saturday Night Live, you can hear examples. The vocabulary and slang are an important and fun part of this unique accent. By learning these accent features, it will help you spot a Midwesterner and they will love that you noticed.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

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