In this question closed means can't be added to, such as the list of pronouns, I, you, etc. can't be added to, but nouns can; a hundred years ago there was no internet or a word for fractals.

So, is the list of -n't words closed? It seems to be as you can't just attach it to any old verb. hasn't is fine but workn't isn't. I have found many lists of -n't words but none that claim to be complete, only some that say they have the commonly used words.

In this question I used three such words without realising I'd used that many! can't (three times), hasn't (my example word) and isn't.


As a rule of thumb, not only contracts with auxiliary verbs. There may be some exceptions. For example, it could be argued that in I haven't the time or the energy the verb HAVE is not an auxiliary. But note that this verb can used as an auxiliary. So we could probably reformulate that as only verbs that are sometimes auxiliaries can contract with not.

The auxiliary verbs in English are BE, HAVE, DO and the modal auxiliaries, the central members of which are:


There are also a few so-called marginal auxiliaries:


I may have missed one or two marginal auxiliaries there.

In short, the verbs that can contract with not in English are best thought of as a small closed class. Although there is always some change on the periphery of the class (consider USED for example), the English auxiliaries are generally considered to be a closed class.

  • A not negating a VP requires an auxiliary verb; that's why *workn't is ungrammatical -- *work not is ungrammatical already. So they naturally contract with auxiliary verbs, and there is already a short list of those. And not all of them, either -- %mayn't is rare to nonexistent in the US, for instance. When enough people decide different, it'll change. – John Lawler Jul 17 '15 at 15:30
  • @john yes, % usen't is vey rare too. But does occur. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 17 '15 at 17:35
  • Not in English speech, at least in the USA. I've never heard it. And I'm not sure how to pronounce mayn't; it looks like it oughta rhyme with ain't, but I want to make it two syllables. Whatever, I don't think I've heard it often enough to tell. – John Lawler Jul 17 '15 at 17:41
  • @JohnLawler I'm in the UK and on the (very) few occasions I've had to, I've always used one syllable - like maint. – TripeHound Jul 17 '15 at 18:36
  • I’m sure I’ve heard mayn’t and when I have it’s always been pronounced as may-ent I think back when children were constantly corrected to ask “may we” instead of ‘can we’, “mayn’t we” was much more common. – Jim Jul 18 '15 at 0:32

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