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I found a bunch of questions about these grammatical formulations:

  1. "Why don't we close these duplicates?" (Negated question using a contraction)
  2. "Why do we not close these duplicates?" (Negated question using full form, where not moves past the subject)
  3. "Why do not we not close these duplicates?" (Negated question using full form, where not stays in place; considered archaic or ungrammatical by most people)

Not all the questions cover all 3 forms, but many do. Not all the questions have great titles either but that can be fixed.


Usage

Differences in the correct forms

I don't remember if any of the questions above really explained the difference between the two correct forms, as opposed to just saying that they're both correct, so I put these in their own section.

History

As I read more questions, it made sense to break this out into its own category. These questions aren't duplicates of any of the ones above. The answers are quite different between them so I'm not sure if it's useful to close all of them even as duplicates of each other. I think the questions could be polished a little though (weak titles).

My questions

  • What are the best canonicals in the "Usage" section?
  • Should any of the history questions be closed as duplicates?
  • What tags are best? I've been using . For , I guess I would replace . (I may or may not retag many of these questions. But it seems appropriate to do so if I'm bumping with a reopen/reclose anyway.)
  • Bonus: Does ELL have a canonical we can link to as well? (I may have to redo my searches there...)

Let's reach an agreement before closing or reopening any of these questions. I can do it easily myself with my unlimited well of mod closing powers.

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  • 1
    Them's a lot of duplicates. How do we want to answer this? 4 separate answers, upvoted or downvoted to show favor? Or answers by individuals for all four?
    – Mitch
    Jun 23 at 13:32
  • @Mitch I suggest posting the suggestion that you agree with most. There's more than four ways to handle this, even if you only look at the "Usage" questions.
    – Laurel Mod
    Jun 23 at 13:40
  • 4
    I have often thought that we should be reviewing so-called "duplicates" for quality: many older posts would be closed in a heartbeat (given current site policy and culture) as they are not well-written and have no accepted answer due to their LQ, yet they are considered canonical based only on their longevity... Jun 23 at 18:40
  • 2
    First, let's define the question and what it refers to. Most of the OQs were normally incoherent, approaching constructions from every possible direction for every possible reason. If we're gonna have a Standard Answer, we oughta have a Good Question to fit it. Jun 23 at 19:03
  • Why do not we? is very 19th-century, and I suspect that even when books printed that, authors expected it to be read as Why don't we? After 1750 there was a move away from phonetic spellings like lov'd in favour of morphological spellings like loved. I construe Why do not we? as an ultimately failed move in the same direction. A similar attempt to print spoken can't as cannot partly succeeded and left us with two different words. There are few reliable citations for cannot before 1700.
    – BoarGules
    Jun 29 at 20:30

1 Answer 1

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As far as I can see, the question has to do with fairly simple facts and rules. But these deal with several different things, and the various statements in the questions, and answers, are contradictory and confusing. So, as I suggested in my comment above, let's limit the question and state it clearly.

The topics involved are

  1. question formation
  2. subject-auxiliary inversion
  3. auxiliary-negative contraction
  4. the nature of negation and negative phrases

In order, Question Formation (both y/n and Wh) requires that there be an auxiliary before the subject. It also requires a lot of other stuff, but the position of the auxiliary before the subject is the point to concentrate here.

There are several ways to get an auxiliary in front of a subject. You can simply swap them:

  • He was working when she called ==> Was he working when she called?

but if there isn't one, you hafta use do (the rule is called Do-Support) and put that in front of the subject:

  • She woke up at 3 am ==> Did she wake up at 3 am?

That's all simple enough. But if you add a negative, you complicate the syntax. The usual place for not is after the first auxiliary verb (as usual, if there is no auxiliary verb, Do-Support happens)

  • Bill is eating lasagna. + not ==> Bill is not eating lasagna.
  • Bill ate lasagna yesterday. + not ==> Bill did not eat lasagna yesterday.

Since the first auxiliary verb carries the tense marker, Do-Support changes the following verb to an infinitive (if it isn't one already), because do requires an infinitive complement. That's what happened to ate and eat above.

And that's simple enough, too, except that not has its own other uses;
negation is never simple.

In modern English, not is contracted whenever possible. Avoiding a contraction marks the sentence as not standard, and can be used to emphasize something, though one is not always sure of what's being emphasized.

  • He hasn't finished the painting yet.
  • He has not finished the painting yet.

The second sentence above is more likely to have a different intonation, and to be interpreted as a complaint or recrimination.

But contraction with a negative reifies an auxiliary, and forms a new one. This new auxiliary must now be moved or not moved as a unit, and can't be split up. When a movement rule like Question Formation inverts an auxiliary, it moves the whole contraction:

  • He has not finished the painting. ===> Has he not finished the painting?
  • He hasn't finished the painting. ===> Hasn't he finished the painting?

But it only moves the contracted auxiliary, not an uncontracted not, which stays where it is. Therefore there is no rule that generates the ungrammatical question

  • *Has not he finished the painting?

because there is no rule that unpacks hasn't to has not after it's been inverted. It only works in one direction, like a trapdoor function.

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  • I didn't put in everything I could, but this does seem to me to settle the question reasonably well. Just how complete do you want this to be? It's not really an important question -- just ordinary syntax. Jun 25 at 18:09
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    Is this what you want to post as an answer to whatever question we choose as the canonical? And do you have a suggestion for what question that would be (or if we should make a new one entirely)? Also, congrats on six digits (of rep)!
    – Laurel Mod
    Jun 27 at 22:35
  • (It must have pissed off somebody; I got some hate mail and a lot of spam.) But I frankly didn't know how far to go here. This is what I consider a simple explanation of how those three sentences work out or don't, and why. There are many more misapprehensions I could apprehend, but I druther keep it simple; as I said, it isn't really a big issue. I don't care what you do with this answer; I was just trying to define the parameters of the question. Jun 27 at 22:53

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