I have long been puzzled by the usage of 'verb + not'. For example, Kennedy said, "... my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The Bible states, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6 KJV).

I think 'verb + not' equals 'do not verb'. Is that so? Can anyone tell me grammatically? Is 'verb + not' only used orally? Is it a formal expression or not?


3 Answers 3


Yes, "verb + not" means the same as "do not + verb." But it is used only in highly formal diction, such as in poetry or oratory. The construction would be very out of place in everyday usage.


It is a stylistic device that puts emphasis on the verb and makes the reader/listener focus in on the statement. It is used in both spoken and written English, but that construction is mainly a rhetorical device for formal speeches and academic/analytical writing.


In earlier times the negation of verbs was simply verb + not. The use of do/does/did + not/n't is a relatively late development.

The question why to do for negation is justified. Though I can't proof it I think the reason is the following: in spoken Englisch verb forms + not are contracted. English would get a lot of irregular forms if it would not use to do. What would be the result of come+n't or came+n't? /kount?/ or /keint?/.

So I think it is a genial invention to use to do and to have only a handful of very frequent contractions. "isn't it" simply is shorter than "does it not be/doesn't it be".

When Kennedy used "ask not... ask" then he used the older system of negation which in rhetoric style can be used in such sentences with antithesis.

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