Can we say "I come not" or use "not" after verbs like that sentence in English ?

  • 1
    'I come not to bury Caesar' is a well known variant on a line from Shakespeare. 'I come not to bury Caesar, but to name a salad after him' is perhaps less well known. But except when using certain uncommon styles, saying 'I come not ...' will make you sound like a rank amateur. Feb 25 '17 at 12:26
  • Ask not what a verb can do for you, ask what you can do for your verb.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 25 '17 at 12:59
  • @EdwinAshworth. I don't think that's a duplicate: it does cover the now rare rhetorical use of not with finite verbs, but never really addresses OP's underlying question about the use of not with verbs generally. Feb 25 '17 at 15:47
  • @StoneyB OP's 'Can we say "I come not" or use "not" after verbs like that sentence in English?' would seem to restrict the scope to main verbs and modern English. Feb 25 '17 at 17:22

Usage is different in finite and non-finite clauses—that is, in clauses which use 'tensed' verbs, imperatives and subjunctives, and clauses which use participles and infinitives.

In pre-Modern English finite clauses any verb could be negated directly:

I pray thee, stay with us. Go not to Wittenberg. —Hamlet
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. —MND

This use survives in proverbial fixed phrases like waste not, want not and archaicizing rhetorical flourishes. Otherwise, Modern English finite negations attach not only to auxiliary verbs; if there is no auxiliary in the affirmative version, do is recruited as a dummy auxiliary:

Do not go ...
Love does not look ...

In non-finite clauses not is still permitted with lexical verbs, but is usually set before the verb, not after it:

Hamlet considered not staying in Denmark.
Not deterred by John's objections, Amy continued.
Not to contradict you, but that seems like a bad idea to me.

  • I don't know what you mean by modern English. Perhaps you are instead thinking of least-common-denominator, semi-literate English? One can certainly find examples of modern usage. Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country..." speech comes to mind.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 25 '17 at 22:09
  • @jamesqf Thanks for the catch. I had edited in a phrase --"rhetorical flourishes"--to cover things like that, but it somehow ended up in a repost as a separate answer. I've now deleted that one, and restored the phrase to its proper place here. Feb 25 '17 at 22:34
  • This is a good answer largely, though I think in Early Modern English (up to late 17th century), direct negation was acceptable for all verbs. I still think think it's acceptable for all verbs even nowadays, it's just archaic. But that's my view.
    – Noldorin
    Feb 26 '17 at 1:59
  • @Noldorin I agree; I was counting EME as Pre-Modern. Feb 26 '17 at 2:08
  • Okay, then all is good!
    – Noldorin
    Feb 26 '17 at 2:11

Yes but it could sound very formal or pompous.

Routinely I'd say 'I don't come ...'

Of course it is acceptable after modal verbs; I can not, I do not, I might not etc.

  • It's not Modern English. It's Early Modern English, which includes Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The syntax rules were different, and so were the word usages. Talking this way is hard to do right (is it dost thou or doth thou?), because it's a different language and you don't know all the rules. It's really just embarrassing, not formal. Feb 25 '17 at 14:58

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