I read the poem 'A Roadside Stand' by Robert Frost, and I saw this line (the line which is in bold letters below), and it doesn't seem to make sense grammatically (to me). Because I think that the line should be 'To try if it will make our being expand'.

So, the first thing I want to know is that is this line grammatically correct, from a true grammatical point of view?
Second, has the writer used 'not' in this line specifically in the poem for some specific purpose/reason?

I have also heard 'not' being used in an incorrect way in normal English conversations.
For eg - "I seriously do not know nothing about this".
I know this is definitely incorrect.
So,Has the writer also used "not" in the same kind of sense as this sentence?

The hurt to the scenery wouldn't be my complaint

So much as the trusting sorrow of what is unsaid:

Here far from the city we make our roadside stand

And ask for some city money to feel in the hand

To try if it will not make our being expand,

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    'To see if it will (/won't) ...'. The negative is unusual, perhaps to the point of being non-standard nowadays, but poetry has laxer rules (and hence is normally considered off-topic on ELU). Here's an example from Hedda Gabler by Ibsen {1891}: "Will you not take a glass of cold punch, gentlemen?" ... Judge Brack, [Looking at his watch.] "A stirrup-cup? Yes, it wouldn't come amiss." Nowadays, we'd use 'Would [any of] you like ...'. Feb 28, 2018 at 10:24
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    In this poem; I read To try if it will or will not make our being expand
    – mplungjan
    Feb 28, 2018 at 11:07
  • @mplungjan How would someone get the feeling that you got to read it that way? :) Mar 1, 2018 at 16:14
  • @RohitShekhawat - by reading a lot of books and poems and encountering it before.
    – mplungjan
    Mar 1, 2018 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


It is grammatically fine.

Idiomatically, it is now old-fashioned. as Edwin Ashworth said; but it used to be quite common to use the negative where we would use the positive in offering things:

Won't you come this way?

Wouldn't you like to sit down?

and trying things:

Let's see if we can't fix this.

  • Thanks, Colin and @EdwinAshworth :) I'm now clear about the answer. Mar 1, 2018 at 16:17

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