I like apples

is good grammar

I not like apples

is bad grammar. It must be

I do not like apples.

I'm looking for a concise explanation that I can give to an 11 year old learning English. I'm a native speaker but I cannot seem to justify the grammar in any better way that "it is so".

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U! I made a slight edit to your question's formatting, to put the statements at issue in standard quotation format; you can roll this edit back if you don't like it, or make your own additional changes. – 1006a May 16 '17 at 16:37
  • Thanks. Was writing on a mobile so formatting is painful. It looks nicer with your edit. Thanks. 😊 – bradgonesurfing May 16 '17 at 16:40
  • You can explain to your student that every lexical verb needs an auxiliary verb in order to create its negative. If there is already an auxiliary verb in the verb phrase, not can directly be added to it. If there is no auxiliary, the appropriate form of do is required to make negative form of verbs. That's all! – mahmud k pukayoor May 16 '17 at 17:16
  • @mahmudkoya "He walked not twenty yards before he spied what was happening." – WS2 May 16 '17 at 17:58
  • If you leave out "do", it becomes ambiguous as to what you left out. Maybe you left out "am". I am not like apples (I think of myself more like watermelons). – fixer1234 May 16 '17 at 18:06

This is a good question, and I think the answer lies in history. "Do not verb" wasn't always the way things were said. Here's a chart:

The use of periphrastic do in Early Modern English negative declaratives: evidence from the Helsinki Corpus

The "not+V" form was not as popular as the "V+not" form in eModE, but it was a valid way to say things. The form "Do+not+V" came into being after do became used in questions ("Have you any?" vs. "Do you have any?"). "Do+not+V" won out for several reasons:

  • English was switching over from SOV to SVO
  • It was similar to the existing "Aux+not+V"
  • It makes the distinction between object negation and sentence negation clear
    • Example of object negation:

      But she spoke not of a lover only, but of a prince dear to him to whom she spoke
      Cited in the aforementioned paper (E3, CEFICT3B, FICTION, SAMPLE 1).

I also wrote this answer about the Earliest attestation of “does/do/did not + verb”. The information and sources there are also relevant.

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  • Wow!! OK I'm still not sure I have a better answer than "it is so" but skimming through the references it is fascinating to see how do support for negation slowly shifted through the centuries. The question was promoted because the English teacher of my 11yr old daughter marked as wrong her answer that do is there because of negation. Im not sure the answer he was looking for but the true history and real answer looks like it keeps researchers busy and arguing for entire careers :) Thanks. I'll try to convey some of the information to her. – bradgonesurfing May 16 '17 at 19:46
  • @brad Your daughter’s teacher was quite simply incorrect. The do is there because of the negation: in current English, its sole purpose is to support the negator not in the sentence you give; it has no other function. I might have a word with the teacher about this if I were you. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 17 '17 at 8:50
  • The teacher is not a native speaker and I think feels a bit under pressure from the tiny native speaker student. No need to stir things up :). ( We are living in Austria ) – bradgonesurfing May 17 '17 at 9:11

You could say "I like not apples".

It would sound rather quaint unless you were using it as irony, for emphasis or for effect. But it would be perfectly idiomatic English.

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  • 1
    I don't think this is idiomatic at all. I think "I dislike apples" is idiomatic. – Xanne May 16 '17 at 18:51
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    I agree with Xanne--"perfectly idiomatic English" is not the right way to describe "I like not". The grammar is archaic, which I wouldn't normally consider to be "idiomatic". – herisson May 16 '17 at 19:01
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    @sumelic So what? I care not what you think, and know not why you are so hidebound by convention. Previously debated here – WS2 May 16 '17 at 21:51
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    The point is that verb + not is still idiomatic (if quite formal) in certain, specific contexts. Verbs of utterance and reasoning (say, speak, ask, think, know, believe, etc.) are generally quite accepting, for example. Most other verbs are much less accepting. The nature of the object (if any) also plays a role. With pronominal objects, acceptance tends to be higher than with noun-phrase objects, so “I like them not” is fine, but “?I like apples not” and “?I like not apples” are both highly awkward. Grammatical, yes, but definitely not idiomatic. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 17 '17 at 8:43

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