Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When you uncontract doesn't in "Why doesn't it work?" the not moves to "Why does it not work?"

This confuses me even more when I use a longer phrase instead of the pronoun it like below:

Why doesn't this simple code example work?

Why does the word order change when we use a contraction?

share|improve this question
I changed the question slightly to make it more topical. I felt that asking where the "not" went was too basic, but that asking why the "not" shifted might be on-topic. –  KitFox Sep 18 '12 at 14:24
@ЯegDwight: (1) Yes (2) Archaic, I'd say, but "are we not all" works in more formal contexts. (3)(a) Emphatic and/or formal. (4) Not realistically (Let us party!??!) The reverse is a no-no: *You mustn't keep us here - (you must) let's go! (5) There is a (perhaps unwritten) rule covering this, I'm sure, but I've never heard it mentioned before - and if does appear in some comprehensive Grammar I've no idea which one it's. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 18 '12 at 15:34
The short answer is this: Contractions are words in their own right. –  David Schwartz Sep 18 '12 at 17:59

3 Answers 3

Generally speaking,

Why does it not work?” is essentially about the not part. (It's supposed to work, why is it not working, then?)

Why doesn't it work?” on the other hand, is more about it. (This is the one that should work.) However, this construction is also often used in the above sense, though seldom vice versa.

“Why does not it work?” is awkward.

share|improve this answer
I'd say Why does not it work? is ungrammatical in Modern English. –  Colin Fine Sep 18 '12 at 21:39
@ColinFine Agreed. It's not just awkward, it's incorrect. –  Kris Sep 19 '12 at 10:04

You start with why do/does, then insert anything you want, then end with not + verb.


Why does this simple code example not work?

You can of course expand what goes after the verb, but you already know that.

Why does this simple code example not work as expected?

share|improve this answer

You form questions in English by inverting the subject and the verb. For the OP's two sentences, the verbs you use in this inversion are does and doesn't, since you can't separate does and n't.

This simple code does not work.
Why does this simple code not work?

This simple code doesn't work.
Why doesn't this simple code work?
*Why does this simple coden't work. (incorrect!)

share|improve this answer
***coden't ***? Did you really mean that?! –  Kris Sep 19 '12 at 10:06

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.