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.

this is really a question for Americans. When watching US TV or films, it's often my impression that, while using all the other contractions, Americans don't seem so keen on 'don't', but use 'do not' rather more often than we Brits. And I don't think it's only when it is stressed. Any comments?

share|improve this question
    
I think perhaps you will find comparatively more "do not"s in series or films because they are based on written scripts. Even so, you may be right – I have no idea. –  Cerberus Jan 10 '11 at 15:18
    
Can you give some examples of this? –  Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 16:25
    
@Cerberus - No, I don't think it's that. As I said 'while using all the other contractions'.@Everyone else - And no sorry, I don't have any evidence. As I said, it's only an impression. But thanks guys for trying. I'm very new here, but I'm beginning to recognise the monikers of the 'usual suspects'. –  RandomIdeaEnglish Jan 10 '11 at 17:25
    
@RandomIdeaEnglish: You're right, I should have reread. –  Cerberus Jan 10 '11 at 17:36
1  
I remember this anecdote about a student during a lecture about linguistics standing up and saying: I don't say "don't!" –  Cerberus Jan 10 '11 at 22:52

5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I did some searches in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and compared the results to similar searches in the British National corpus.

What I found was that overall, in American English there was a 7.9-to-1 ratio of don’t to do not. With breakdowns by type:

SPOKEN    19.6
FICTION   17.9
MAGAZINE   7.5
NEWSPAPER  7.7
ACADEMIC   0.5
TOTAL      7.9

In British English overall, the ratio was 4.4-to-1 in favor of don’t, with breakdowns by type:

SPOKEN     56.9
FICTION    16.8
MAGAZINE    4.1
NEWSPAPER   3.4
NON-ACAD    0.9
ACADEMIC    0.2
MISC        0.9

So, if it is reasonable to conclude anything from this data, it is that Americans overall use don’t about twice as frequently as the British, but the British use don’t in speech about 2.9 times more frequently than Americans. In any case, these are not big enough ratios to be noticeable by anyone not counting every incidence.

share|improve this answer
2  
Brilliant, backing up your answer with statistics. +1 –  ghoppe Jan 10 '11 at 20:16
    
+1 Wow, interesting. –  Cerberus Jan 10 '11 at 20:26
1  
It's also possible that the higher incidence in BrE comes about from popular localized constructions that often use the word "don't". –  treeface Jan 11 '11 at 0:52
    
@nohat brilliant answer, +1. @treeface out of curiousity, can you make an example of such a localized construction? –  Pekka 웃 Jan 11 '11 at 2:29
    
Thanks for all your work, Nohat, my question was exclusively about spoken English, as I said, on TV and in films. In which case, if I'm reading your figures correctly, Americans don't seem to use 'don't' nearly as much as us when speaking, but use it rather more than us in print. I know that some people in the UK (but not me) consider contractions inappropriate for the printed word. So I think one way or another you've answered my question. Thanks. –  RandomIdeaEnglish Jan 11 '11 at 19:58

I think we use "don't" and "can't" almost exclusively in normal conversation here in the U.S. "Do not" and "cannot" are reserved for making special emphasis or dramatic effect. But we have a long history of using the word "don't" — particularly in admonishing our former colonial masters. Have a look at this colonial American flag (Gadsden Flag, source: Wikipedia).

alt text

And its naval equivalent:

alt text

share|improve this answer
2  
These flags were created during the Revolutionary War, weren't they? This was when British and Americans likely had very little difference in their manner of speaking. In any case, I don't really think the observation was that we never use "don't". –  Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 16:51
1  
@Kosmonaut: Actually the flags were created c. 1754, during the time of the French and Indian War. They were employed early on in the revolution, eventually being superseded by the "Old Glory" we're all familiar with now. (Interesting side note: cf. the flag of the British East India Company — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_East_India_Company — which predates the American flag.) In any case, I stated my belief about usage in the first sentence of my answer. I only included the flags for a little bit of humor at the end. –  Robusto Jan 10 '11 at 16:56
2  
These flags are important evidence and deserve an upvote. –  Cerberus Jan 10 '11 at 17:38
4  
@Cerberus: How are the flags important evidence? These are examples of English over 250 years ago, when we were still British Colonies. And it only shows that the word "don't" was ever used at least once, not that it is used as much as the British do. Even Robusto says the flags were added for humor. –  Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 18:21
1  
@Cerberus: In online discussion boards, IMs, and other chat-like discussions, I prescribe that one must always use the smiley :), winky-smiley ;), or sarcasm tag /s whenever one writes a non-obvious sarcastic comment. To do anything else is completely wrong and has no place in the English language. I write papers on English sometimes, so I am an authority figure on the topic. Did that help? :) –  Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 20:30

I don't doubt that we say "don't" in the US as much as our cousins across the pond.

That is, I expect usage is similar in the US and UK.

share|improve this answer
1  
I think you're right, but do you have any actually evidence? –  JSBձոգչ Jan 10 '11 at 15:47
    
@JSBangs: Does RandomIdeaEnglish have any? It sounds like a very difficult thing to prove. If there is no difference in the usage of "don't", then nobody is going to investigate it or write a paper on it. So one of us would have to do it ourselves. But you couldn't go and compare a British corpus to an American corpus... you would need something else. –  Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 16:25
    
@JSBangs - No, I don't :-) Seriously, I don't know how one would go about obtaining evidence. –  John Satta Jan 10 '11 at 16:28

I've voted for nohat's answer, because of the evidence, but I offer my observations anyway:

I find that Americans generally use accepted contractions, including don't. I rarely hear do not except for emphasis. Another data point: In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf and Data are conspicuous for their contraction-free speech, again including don't (Worf is formal by choice; Data has some kind of weird programming deficiency). This is actually played up in the show from time to time. Everyone else uses don't freely.

share|improve this answer

When I was young I was taught not to use contractions in my written works. I wonder if the same English style conventions were taught in the UK, and if that has any effect on American and UK script writers or not.

I believe children are now being taught to write more conversationally, and contractions are not frowned on in written language as much as they used to be.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

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.