All the contractions seem to follow some sort of logic: they place the mark between the words, and leave only the part of the sound that is predominantly heard ("I will" -> "I'll", "you have" -> "you've"). But with "not", the mark is placed right in the middle of the word (like in "does not"-> "doesn't" ), leaving the "n" attached to the previous word.

Is this an historical accident (and if it is, how it was born?), or does it have some (may be phonetic) explanation?

  • Contractions are supposed to imitate speech, which is mostly informal, it's the way we talk to our friends, family, and colleagues every day. Hence "ain't" is a faster way of saying "it is not", so there's a fair bit of logic used.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 21, 2018 at 9:01
  • 4
    The apostrophe shows where letters have been omitted; in this case, the 'o' of 'not'. Mar 21, 2018 at 9:08
  • ... which sometimes corresponds with the join and sometimes doesn't. Mar 21, 2018 at 9:23
  • 2
    Contractions sometimes happen to coincide with an apostrophe between lexeme boundaries, and sometimes they don’t. As Kate mentions, the apostrophe signifies elision of letters, whether that happens to be at a word boundary or not. The -n’t contraction is one case where the elided letters aren’t at a word boundary; other cases are forms like ’tis/’twas (boundary after t), couldn’tve (two boundaries, neither matching apostrophe), ne’er (no boundary at all), ’cause (boundary before apostrophe, as it were), etc. Mar 21, 2018 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


Contractions in speech do not have anything whatever to do with "marks" or "apostrophes" or "letters", or any other part of the contingent technology called "writing".

They arise in speech, and the written language just has to find a way of accommodating them - sometimes it does so better than others. (Eg "doesn't" is standard, whereas "gonna" is not).

I agree that it is a little surprising that the consonantal /n/ of "not" has become the syllabic /n/ of "n't", but that is nevertheless what has happened.

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