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Sentences with Not and -n’t

Not and -n’t almost always follow an auxiliary verb, though they may also follow the lexical verbs be and have.

  • We will answer that question.  We will not answer that question.
  • You must call to him.  You must not call to him.
  • have seen that man before.  have not seen that man before.
  • They are just being silly.  They are not just being silly.
  • The little boy over there is crying.  The little boy over there is not crying.
  • The little boy had been crying.  The little boy had not been crying.
  • She has been playing on the computer for hours.  She has not been playing on the computer for hours.
  • The police could have come sooner. -> The police could not have come sooner.
  • She may be coming to the party. — She may not be coming to the party.

Notice that -n’t is always attached to the verb it follows:

  • You wouldn’t recognize him if you saw him.
  • You mustn’t eat sweets in the classroom.
  • It couldn’t have been George who broke the window.
  • She says she isn’t coming to the party.

In negative questions, -n’t precedes the subject of the verb whereas not follows it:

  • Why didn’t she come with you? BUT Why did she not come with you?
  • Couldn’t hhave said that before? BUT Could he not have said that before?
  • Haven’t you seen her today? BUT Have you not seen her today?
  • Why isn’t she coming to the party? BUT Why is she not coming to the party?

As with questions, if there is no other auxiliary verb available, the verb do is brought in to act as the operator in a negative sentence.

  • I like dogs. — don’t like dogs.
  • He said he was coming. — He did not say he was coming.
  • They got lost on the way home. — They didn’t get lost on the way home.
  • She drinks coffee. — She doesn’t drink coffee.
  • They clearly want a fight. — They clearly do not want a fight.

In older forms of English and in poetry, lexical verbs sometimes form negative sentences without operators, as in these quotations from William Shakespeare:

  • Our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not. (= … did not whip them)
  • Things that love night love not such nights as these. (= … do not love such nights as these)

This is never done in everyday modern English.

Be and Have

Just as with questions, the lexical verbs be and have do not require auxiliary verbs to form negative sentences.

Be never takes an auxiliary:

  • She is his sister. — She isn’t his sister.
  • These are John’s shoes. — These are not John’s shoes.
  • was very angry. — wasn’t very angry.

Have is more complicated. It can form negative sentences with or without do, and there is also the possibility of using ‘have not got’ or ‘haven’t got’:

  • We haven’t any milk. OR
  • We don’t have any milk. OR
  • We haven’t got any milk.

In the sense of possessing or carrying something, the three possibilities are ‘do not have’ / ‘don’t have’ and ‘have not got / ‘haven’t got’ and ‘have not’ (more usually ‘haven’t):

  • don’t have any money.
  • He doesn’t have any money. OR
  • I haven’t got any money.
  • He hasn’t got any money. OR
  • haven’t any money.
  • He hasn’t any money.

All three are possible in British English, but the third form is less usual than the other two. American English prefers the construction with do:

  • didn’t have any money.
  • He didn’t have any money.

In the sense of experiencing or undergoing something, or doing something, especially doing it habitually, the construction to use is ‘do not have (or, usually, ‘don’t have’):

  • didn’t have any trouble finding you.
  • He didn’t have any trouble finding you
  • don’t have coffee for breakfast.
  • He doesn’t have coffee for breakfast.

Notice the difference between ‘do not have and ‘have not got:

  • ‘I haven’t got milk on my cornflakes’ means ‘There is no milk on my cornflakes at the moment’.
  • ‘I don’t have milk on my cornflakes’ generally means ‘I do not usually put milk on my cornflakes’, though it way also mean ‘There is no milk on my cornflakes at the moment’.

In recent years, a new way of making a sentence negative has come into use:

  • That’s a good idea – not! (= ‘That’s definitely not a good idea’)

This is a colloquial and humorous way of making an emphatic negative statement. It should therefore only be used in contexts where it is appropriate to be colloquial and humorous.

Negative commands and requests formed with not and -n’t require the auxiliary verb do along with the base form of a lexical verb.

  • Don’t shout like that!
  • Do not use a mobile phone whilst driving.

To make a verb in the present subjunctive negative, simply put not in front of it.

  • We strongly recommend that children not try this on their own.
  • It’s very important that they not arrive before us.

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