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  1. Because "aren't" translates to "are not" I pose the question, can you use both interchangeably (in the context of "aren't we all?")? "Are not" sounds very grammatically incorrect in this situation.

  2. Can you say "you need not go there" as opposed to "you needn't go there"?

Basically, I thought you can say "you need not" instead of "you needn't" but that you can't say "are not" instead of "aren't" (in the context I've provided) because I've never heard the second. My friend believes that if you can use one example interchangeably, you can use the other as well.


  1. Can you use example '1' interchangeably?
  2. Can you use example '2' interchangeably?
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up vote 9 down vote accepted
  1. No, you can't say "are not we all?". It is ungrammatical, as you suggest.
  2. Yes, you can say either "you need not go there" or "you needn't go there".

The reasons have to do with negative contractions and the fact that they count as a single auxiliary verb. Only one auxiliary verb may be moved in Question-Formation. This may be a contracted verb like isn't or don't, which is inverted with the subject as a unit in questions. If the not is not contracted, on the other hand, then it stays where it is, after the Subject.

Thus these sentences (the "Q" means "Apply Question-Formation")

  • We are not all here. ==Q==> Are we not all here?
  • We aren't all here. ==Q==> Aren't we all here?

follow the rule for subject-verb inversion, but these don't, and are therefore ungrammatical:

  • *Are not we all here?
  • *Need not you do that?

In the case of (2), there's no inversion, because it's not a question, so the contraction can be unpacked at will.

Summary: Contractions are only optional in their original position. If they're moved, they're frozen.

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what do you have to say about the answer below this one? He says "are not we all" is acceptable. – ODP May 15 '12 at 18:57
I see nothing ungrammatical with "are not we all" here. It may have a different meaning from "are we all not" and it may be uncommon, but I do see phrases like Are not we all children of God? or Are not we all brothers in arms? here and there, and don't blink at them. – choster May 15 '12 at 19:03
Yes, you see it in writing but John Lawler has described his reasoning – ODP May 15 '12 at 19:04
@choster: I see those as archaic. I would not regard them as grammatical in contemporary English. – Colin Fine May 15 '12 at 22:44
So, "Am I not a man?" is ungrammatical too?? – Hot Licks Dec 8 '15 at 18:41

Both "are we not all" (or "are not we all") and "you need not go there" are valid here, but that is not the same as saying they are interchangeable with "aren't we all" and "you needn't go there."

In written English, I would probably opt for the written out form, and in some speeches or debates, I might use the full form for rhetorical effect. In modern conversational English, however— certainly in American English— saying are we not or you need not would sound very formal and stilted. The contracted form is overwhelmingly more common, from can't we be friends to wouldn't it be nice. If I heard the long form I would assume someone was quoting from a passage of literature, or making a show of mock pomposity.

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You're right in saying that in spoken English "are we not all" sounds pompous, and I suppose that American English might shun from it even in writing; however, "are not we all" isn't acceptable for the reasons which Lawler so clearly outlined. This doesn't mean that no one uses it, though. – Paola May 15 '12 at 19:42
One sees practically everything in written English; after all, the majority of English writers (possibly the majority of English speakers also) are not native speakers, and even if they are, who knows what nonsense they've been taught about grammar? We see examples every day here. There are still people, after all, who believe that written English is the real deal, while spoken English is common and unimportant. – John Lawler May 15 '12 at 22:40

You cannot always replace aren't with are not in toto. The 'not' will move to and occupy its appropriate place in the sentence when separated from 'are', which place may not necessarily be next to 'are'.

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