What is the difference between "don't" and "do not" in the English literature as well as spoken English? Are they same?

The same question goes for "wouldn't" and "would not", "couldn't" and "could not".

  • 4
    I could say, "Don't joke about bombs at airports." But I might say instead, "Do NOT joke about bombs at airports." The uncontracted form "do not" is stronger and more serious, especially when you emphasize the "not". Jun 22, 2012 at 8:24
  • @DietrichEpp: Arguably, that difference in nuance isn't because of the contraction itself, but rather the difference between formal and informal language (although in your defense, formal language does tend to avoid contractions more often than informal language. But that's correlation, not causation, as far as I'm aware). "I'm asking for you to visit me" versus "I am requesting for you to visit me". Same meaning, but nuanced interpretation as to the severity of the request.
    – Flater
    Aug 7, 2017 at 14:30
  • @Flater: It sounds like you're agreeing with me, but your comment is written as if there is some kind of disagreement, so I am a bit unsure what you are actually trying to say. I'm also not sure what you mean by "correlation not causation". Surely if avoiding contractions makes our language more formal, then wanting to express something in a more formal register would mean that we choose to use fewer contractions? Isn't that a causal relationship? Aug 7, 2017 at 16:17
  • @DietrichEpp: To clarify my earlier statement: the reason for the serious tone is the formal language. In this example, the formal language is distinguished by the lack of contractions (which means that the lack of contractions is an indirect consequence of wanting to carry a more serious tone and therefore intentionally wanting to sound more formal). So you're right about the specific example, but it would be more correct to say that the seriousness in the latter example directly stems from its formal phrasing.
    – Flater
    Aug 7, 2017 at 16:23
  • @Flater: We can argue about cause of death all we want... I say that the man died because he was stabbed, and you say that the man died because of blood loss caused by the stab wound, and the death was only an "indirect consequence" of being stabbed. This is clearly not a disagreement of fact, instead, we are just using different levels of detail to explain things. Aug 7, 2017 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


"Don't", "wouldn't" and "couldn't" are contractions of "do", "would" and "could" with "not".

From the Wikipedia page on Contraction:

An informal type of contraction occurs frequently in speech and writing, in which a syllable is substituted by an apostrophe and/or other mode of elision, e.g., can't for "cannot", won't for "will not". Such contractions are often either negations with not or combinations of pronouns with auxiliary verbs, e.g., I'll for "I will".

  • The contractions (e.g. don't) and the full phrases (e.g. do not) have the same meaning.
  • Contractions are more frequent in speech than writing.
  • Contractions are more frequent in informal than formal contexts.
  • It is not always the case that you can replace "don't" or "can't" etc. with "do not" or "cannot" directly; e.g. "Why can’t I?" (See nohat's comments below)
  • 10
    It is not always the case that you can replace don’t or can’t etc. with do not or cannot directly; e.g. there is no unawkward way to uncontract Why can’t I?
    – nohat
    Sep 20, 2010 at 0:16
  • 2
    There is also a difference in the imperative form: "do not walk on the grass" is a better phrasing than "don't walk on the grass".
    – Ether
    Sep 20, 2010 at 6:02
  • 6
    @moioci “Why can I not do that?” is not “Why can’t I?” uncontracted. It is a different sentence. Uncontracted “Why can’t I?” is “Why cannot I?”, which is ungrammatical. You might argue that “Why can I not?” is the uncontracted form, but like I said, it is pretty awkward. You could rephrase it to make it less awkward, but that’s entirely different from uncontracting.
    – nohat
    Sep 20, 2010 at 17:46
  • 4
    They have precisely the same meaning. However, there are some contexts where you are required to use the weak form ("Why can't I do that?") and some where you are required to use the strong form ("Are you as hungry as I am?"). Aug 28, 2011 at 18:14
  • 4
    I'm afraid that Wikipedia's wrong. Cliticization does not involve apostrophes; that's just a way we sometimes write cliticized words. Clitics are part of English, even for people who can't read or write, and always has been. With or without apostrophes. Jul 9, 2012 at 22:49

But don't you think that sometimes, "don't" works better than "do not"? "Do not" conveys an urgency or an order. While "don't" is not as pressing or commanding. For instance, I don't see your point of view." It could sound strange to force the argument by saying, "I do not see your point of view." Any thoughts on this?

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