Which is the more correct form:

  1. Why does he not?

  2. Why does not he?

and why?

At first blush 1 would seem to be grammatical - just on an intuitive judgement. However 2 logically seems as though it should be grammatical, even though it sounds ungrammatical.

The reason I say this, is that I know that the following definitely is grammatical, and is in many ways preferable to either of the above:

  1. Why doesn't he?

Now Why doesn't he? is just the contracted form of 2:

  1. Why does not he?

  2. Why doesn't he?

So, given that 2 is essentially 3, I'd like to know firstly, which questions are grammatical and which are ungrammatical or awkward. I'd like to also know why this is the case - assuming there is some absolute contrast between 2 and 3.

  • What a good question! I doubt any of the people who've voted to close this have the faintest foggiest idea about the answer to it. I'm going to edit your question to make the problem clear for readers here. The way it is now, they'll know which seems correct and will just assume the grammar's simple. They won't understand why intuitively the second question should seem correct and the first wrong! Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 12:02
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    @Araucaria I was one of the close-voters, and I stand by that close-vote for the original question, which basically just asked which one is the correct one. That is easily found out in any elementary grammar book. With your substantial edit, the question is quite a different one, and obviously one I would never close-vote (hence I’ve retracted my vote). Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 12:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks! Actually as it goes, I teach EFL occasionally for beer money - I don't think I've ever seen it addressed anywhere in that arena - that that kind of question form can't be de-contracted ... (shrugs). Don't know why they don't ... Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 12:24
  • @Araucaria I don’t really think they should. They should instead teach it the other way around: that contracted not functions as a clitic attached to the inflected verb form, and as such becomes part of the word itself. So when you do subject-auxiliary inversion, ‘auxiliary’ includes -n’t and the whole unit is inversed. When not contracted, not isn’t a clitic, so it remains where it’s supposed to be. Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 12:31
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2 Answers 2


the question 'Why does he not?' is the right one. And there is no logical reasonjng for this. It is the rule of english that a negative question of this form must be in the format: Question tag + verb + pronoun + negation AND NOT Question tag + verb + negation + pronoun

This is because, when you mention negation before the pronoun, like 'Does not he' it does not take into consideration the fact that the negation is for the verb 'does' as well as, this verb 'does not' is associated with the pronoun. On the other hand, if you say 'Does he not' the negation is applied first to 'does' and then to 'he' and that is why it associated them together. When we are stating a sentence like; He does not do it. Here, 'does' and 'not' both show the association with 'he'. Here, first 'does' shows a relation with the pronoun and then 'not' shows the relation with the pronoun and also with the verb 'does'. So, anything to be associated must follow the object or the subject and not preceded it.


This is due to the principle of relying on proximity to provide clarity and reduce ambiguity.

We know that

Why isn't he sick?

is a short-from of

Why is-not he sick?

But "Why is not he sick" could mean one of

  • Why is, not-he, sick, but she? Why is he not the one who is sick?
  • Why is he not sick?

Why does not he go to school?

  • Why does, not-he, go to school, but she ? Why is he not the one going to school?
  • Why does he not go to school?

he not-sick and he not-go is closer (proximity) to negating the state, than not-he sick and not-he go.

Place the descriptor as close as possible to the item/action to be described.

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