‘Don't’ is a contraction of ‘do not’, and ‘do’ is a verb meaning ‘to perform/execute’. Strictly speaking, then, are these two common constructions ungrammatical?

a) ‘Don't do this/that.’ Since it expands to ‘Do not do this/that’, isn't [1] the second ‘do’ redundant? If so, why does ‘Don't this/that’ sound so wrong whereas the expanded ‘Do not this/that’ merely sounds a bit archaic?

b) ‘Don't continue.’ [2] Since both ‘do’ and ‘continue’ are verbs, shouldn't it be ‘Continue not’? [3]


[1] ‘Isn't’ seems to follow this remain-grammatical-albeit-archaic-sounding-when-expended rule, as does ‘shouldn't’ in question (b).

[2] Ditto for any other verb in place of ‘continue’.

[3] And if you wanted everyone to think you were odd you could presumably insist on writing ‘continuen't’.

  • Which would you say: "Do not drugs", or "Do not do drugs"? – Peter Shor Oct 28 '18 at 13:27
  • There is nothing wrong with doubling do in a sentence, and in fact it is quite common and idiomatic. "Don't you ever do anything wrong?" "Did you do what I asked?" etc. – Robusto Oct 28 '18 at 13:27
  • I'm not sure it's exactly a duplicate, but it seems highly relevant: Is there some rule against ending a sentence with the contraction “it's”? I think n't is a (inherently "weak" form) clitic, which as explained in rthe linked answer can't appear at the end of an utterance. So the angel couldn't validly have said Fearn't to the shepherds watching their flocks by night, even if he'd been speaking in English. – FumbleFingers Oct 28 '18 at 13:37
  • There is a cultural source for this type of statement. It is an ordinary, acceptable language structure implicit to an authoritarian and dominant usage as a short, succinct admonition from parents, guardians, teachers and other authority figures. This type of idiomatic linguistic is referential to it a positional generic action or statement (the do-ing). ‘Don’t touch that.’ ‘Don’t say that.’ ‘Don’t go there.’, are all similar statements, and very grammatical. – Norman Edward Oct 28 '18 at 14:03
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    I don't understand the question. This is just how imperative negation is formed in English. You need the main verb, and you need the helper verb. "Grammar" is not an imaginary set of rules that exists in a vacuum. Grammar is the specific set of rules speakers of a specific language actually use. If speakers of English use five dos in a row to form the imperative, then that is what's grammatical, and using four or six is not. If they form the imperative by taking the past participle of the verb and adding a "ladeeloo my dear" in front, then that is what's right, and not doing that is wrong. – RegDwigнt Oct 28 '18 at 14:36

The answer is that English doesn't need to use "do not + nonauxiliary*" (aka "do support"), since it did perfectly well when it didn't. It's just that you need to use it in order to not sound archaic.

For example, the Tyndale Bible, 1526:

Yf I do not the workes off my father, beleue me not.

The reason it sounds archaic is because it is. English had other types of negation besides "verb not" and do support, but they were either too old or too uncommon, so they no longer sound like grammatical archaic English. I covered these forms in a previous answer here (this previous answer also explains why we use do support instead of other types of negation).

As for why it doesn't sound right to try and contract not without do support, I think this is partly because of rarity and partly because contractions don't sound like archaic English, and are thus not used when trying to sound archaic. You can find a contraction of "know not" in Wuthering Heights:

"Well, for sure case, I knawn't how they can understand t'one t'other: and if either o' ye went there, ye could tell what they said, I guess?"

*Some words are both auxiliaries and nonauxiliaries. "Need", for example, is one that can be used as an auxiliary or nonauxiliary pretty much anywhere, but do is only an auxiliary in certain situations: "don't do" has both an auxiliary and nonauxiliary do.

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Redundancy is not ungrammatical. Frequently, the absence of redundancy is ungrammatical: the -s affix in a sentence like “The dog barks” redundantly indicates that the subject of the sentence is third-person singular, but we cannot say *“The dog bark” instead.

Negative imperatives in English are formed by placing “don’t” (or “do not”) before the plain form or bare infinitive form of the verb. There is not an exception for the verb do.

One (somewhat unusual) feature of standard present-day English is that in various grammatical contexts, a main verb must be accompanied by an auxiliary. Do in “Don’t do” functions as a main verb.

“Don’t”/“Do not” was not required in negative imperatives in the past, but nowadays a construction like “Continue not” would be an archaism.

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