Shouldn't "believe it or not" be "believe it or don't?" I do not see the word "not" being used like that elsewhere.

closed as off-topic by ab2, jimm101, GoldenGremlin, curiousdannii, user140086 Mar 8 '16 at 1:19

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I do not see the word "not" being used like that elsewhere.

For that particular construction, there are others that are similar and easily understood:

Ready or not..., Like it or not..., Whether he knows it or not..., etc.

There is a dropped verb there, not necessary for understanding. You did understand "Believe it or not," did you not?

Believe it or [do] not [believe it]...

Words that are easily understood to be part of a phrase are often omitted. For example, the same can be said this way:

Words easily understood to be part of a phrase are often omitted.

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    Makes sense to me. Don't know why the drive-by downvote. Words easily understood to be part of phrase *are often omitted!* – Rob_Ster Feb 28 '16 at 1:46
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    @Rob_Ster I am not the downvoter, but if you write a full sentence, you have to write the subject of the sentence, too. There is a possibility it is short for "Whether (even though, although, etc) you believe it or you don't believe it" – user140086 Feb 28 '16 at 3:32
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    @Rathony - I do agree as a matter of grammatical purity, but support the truth of what Medica asserts: fluent English users do a lot of crazy things that don't follow the rulebook, and are understood clearly all the same. I think I was watching while the downvote happened, and lobbed a dinner roll... Cheers! – Rob_Ster Feb 28 '16 at 3:41
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    @Rob_Ster I get your point. but this community is not about how native English speakers parse a phrase or sentence. There is a grammatical rule that explains that omission. BTW, I am not a grammar purist but this answer has room for improvement. – user140086 Feb 28 '16 at 4:22

You can explain it as a shortened form of " Believe it or do not believe it". As this is a frequently used sentence introduction "or do not believe it" was reduced to "or not".

Despite the shortened form the sense of this idiomatic formula remains clear.


It seems to follow a slightly more archaic pattern than suggested in the previous answer.

Believe it or [believe it] not.

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