English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was wondering which one is grammatically correct between "Why didn't (or did not) somebody do something?" and "Why did somebody not do something?"

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Either works from a grammatical perspective, but usually a native speaker would say

Why didn't somebody do something?

The other way is not wrong.

Why did somebody not do something?

Putting the not outside of the normal order causes more emphasis to be placed upon it, a rhetorical figure known as anastrophe. From NOAD:

anastrophe |əˈnastrəfē| noun Rhetoric
the inversion of the usual order of words or clauses.

share|improve this answer
Thanks! Do people say "Why did not somebody do something?" – Tim Jul 23 '11 at 2:08
@Tim: Not normally. But there's no reason they couldn't — again, for special emphasis. If the rest of their English were poor, however, listeners would assume it was a mistake. – Robusto Jul 23 '11 at 3:00
@Tim: that would be strained. In modern English "not" does not usually come between the preposed verb and its subject, though the clitic "n't" does. So "did not he" is definitely archaic, "did he not" current but somewhat formal, and "didn't he" normal. – Colin Fine Jul 24 '11 at 0:35

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.