An exercise asked me to rearrange the sentence "Put your money not in trust" such that there is no ambiguity to its meaning. At first glance I thought that "Put not your trust in money" sounded right, but thinking it over I realized that "not" is a squinting modifier here.

(Put not) your trust in money -- Don't put your trust in money.
Put (not your trust) in money -- Put someone else's trust in money.

I looked up "Put not your" and found that it is used by Oliver Wendell Holmes in

Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust.

and in Psalms 146.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

These quotes make me feel unsure of my reasoning, so I'm not sure what the correct answer ought to be.

  • 4
    This is archaic English. It's therefore not surprising you're unsure of your reasoning about it. In Modern English one would use Do-Support: Don't put your trust in money. That sentence is (a) grammatical; (b) colloquial; (c) unambiguous; and (d) true. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:17
  • 1
    What exactly are you asking? Note that put not your trust... is a dated/literary usage which would normally be expressed today by don't put your trust... Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:18
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: Don't put your trust in money doesn't have the form of a true statement. It may be good advice but it is neither true nor false any more than Don't trust your cat is true (or false). Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:24
  • I spoke too unphilosophically. It's good advice, but of course, as an imperative, it can't be true; merely felicitous. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 16:45
  • 1
    Your reasoning is sound. The awkwardness of squinting not to ‘not your trust’ with no context to force it there makes the ambiguity slight; but it is there. You'd have to put the negated imperative last to avoid this altogether, though with Yoda-speak end up you would: “In money your trust put not”. What an elegant, natural, but most important unambiguous sentence! Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


I believe for most readers the standard meaning is "(Put not) your trust", equivalent to "Don't put your trust", but you may get the other one by stressing "your", writing "Put not your trust in money", "Don't put your trust in money".


It probably goes against the rules, but my instinct tells me that 'Put not your trust in money' carries the first meaning (Put not) your trust...

Certainly, in German grammar that would also be the case. Irrelevant here but maybe interesting.

I just wonder what meaning the sentence should have when it's rearranged though. Clearly, it is ambiguous as it is. So the task of rearranging has to choose a final meaning from the options.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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