I refer to the usage of "don't" as an imperative to tell someone what not to do. As in,

Hey! Don't you dare touch that button!

When it is used in the interrogative or as part of a statement, "don't" can be expanded like most other contractions. It either just breaks up right in the sentence, or surrounds the subject.

Don't you love me, Juanromeo? -> Do you not love me, Juanromeo?

I don't love you, Marijuliet. -> I do not love you, Marijuliet.

However, I have no idea how one breaks up the imperative. "Do you not dare[...]" sounds like it's a lead up to a question, "You do not dare[...]" comes across as a statement moreso than a command, and "Do not you dare[...]" just sounds silly.

"Don't" is a bit unique among "not" contractions (at least that I know of) because it is the only one that can be used in an imperative sense. Couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't, haven't, isn't, doesn't, aren't, can't... none of these can be used in an imperative sense because you cannot command someone to could, should, etc.

Is it possible to expand the don't contraction when it is used as part of a command? Or is its unique case such that it exists as its own linguistic construct?

  • @PeterShor. Let's not start.
    – TRiG
    Nov 21, 2011 at 2:48
  • Oddly, You don't you love me, Juanromeo? and You do not love me, Juanromeo? seems to work. Although in speech you would be reliant on intonation to make it understood as a question.
    – Brendon
    Nov 21, 2011 at 5:51

3 Answers 3


WesT's answer points out that expanding the contraction works if you allow the subject to be omitted. In fact, rather than don't being an unusual feature of the examples in the question, it's the you that was the unusual feature; it's more usual with the English imperative to omit it, though it can be included for emphasis.

Part of the question that wasn't dealt with is:

"Don't" is a bit unique among "not" contractions (at least that I know of) because it is the only one that can be used in an imperative sense. Couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't, haven't, isn't, doesn't, aren't, can't... none of these can be used in an imperative sense because you cannot command someone to could, should, etc.

It's not so much don't that is unique in this, as do.

Some constructs can only happen in English with an auxiliary, particularly inversion and negation.

Inversion first:

He will make up his mind.

Will he make up his mind?

He decided.

*Decided he?

This last isn't allowed because decided isn't an auxiliary, and so we use do (inflected as did):

Did he decide.

Similarly with negation:

I will eat it.

I will not eat it.

I eat it.

*I eat not it.

Again this is not allowed in English (not in contemporary standard English, anyway), so we use do again:

I do not eat it.

Since the negative imperative is of course a case of negation, if the verb used is not an auxiliary (as it generally won't be, more on that later), then this same "do-support" is needed, and hence "Don't touch that button" is the negative of "Touch that button".

The other auxiliaries tend not to be used with the imperative, not so much because it would be grammatically incorrect, as it would be meaningless. What does it mean to instruct someone with will (in the auxiliary sense), or can?

With might, mote, may (in most senses) or would trying to form an imperative clause finds no reasonable target except perhaps fate or the divine and turns into a wish or a blessing: "May you be happy!", "Would that the rain would stop!". Describing this as imperative is a bit of a stretch!

Some dialects (some in Ireland certainly, and I gather some in India), do use may in the imperative to express a polite command (though the politeness can be sarcastic): "May you please join me tomorrow", "You may reply as soon as possible". Other dialects wouldn't use this and those who speak them perhaps misinterpret these expressions as giving permission rather than request (indeed, precisely where the form comes from originally; giving permission and letting the command be implied).

Outside of that example, do is the only auxiliary that would be meaningful in the imperative.

  • "mote"? That's one word I've never known before (at least other than talking about specks or flecks of light). That aside, this certainly adds a lot of interesting color I hadn't thought about regarding the language. It does make more sense, how it expands and how the word is used, from this. Thanks for this!
    – Grace Note
    Feb 6, 2014 at 2:18
  • Mote is obsolete in most of its senses, and archaic in the rest, but once bore a relationship to must as can does to could. It's nearly-sole surviving use is in Freemasonry and Wicca, outside of which it is only likely to be seen in cases where a Wiccan with an interest in English words are writing about auxiliary verbs. That said, @StoneyB has been known to use it, and he's only fits the interest-in-English-words part of that bill.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 6, 2014 at 2:29

With an implied subject, the sentence could be written as:

Do not dare touch that button.

Is that what you're looking for?

  • 1
    Y'know, I didn't think about just removing the subject. I wonder if that's the only way.
    – Grace Note
    Nov 20, 2011 at 19:21
  • 9
    @GraceNote: Subjects are not normally expressed in imperative clauses. Nov 20, 2011 at 19:28
  • 5
    In practice I think one of the reasons the word "dare" appears in OP's original is simply so it can be emphasised. But if "don't" is expanded, "dare" becomes redundant; many speakers would simply shift the emphasis and say "Do not touch that button!" Nov 20, 2011 at 23:36
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I agree, "do not dare" sounds odd, with clashing formal/informal tone.
    – poolie
    Nov 21, 2011 at 0:29
  • 1
    The comments expand on this very nicely, but I think the essence of "no subject necessary in imperative clause" captured in this answer is the key point.
    – Grace Note
    Nov 21, 2011 at 21:55

I think that it may exist as its own linguistic construct that has evolved due to the gain in usage of "Don't" in daily language. I think it would be difficult to come up with a deconstruction that expresses the same stress in English without significantly changing the words:

You dare not touch that button!


You shall not dare touch that button.

These are very British expressions, rarely found in American speech. The verb to do switches to something else.

However there is an urgent "running after" feeling in

Don't you dare touch that button!

If i was to write a dialogue where a parent was running after a child I would use the last form. The other two do not sound urgent enough, although they do sound ominous.

Those are my thoughts.

I also see Jasper's answer, viz. "You do not dare touch that button!" I find that closer to "You shall not dare touch that button!" (i.e. ominous) vs. my first expression "You dare not touch that button!" which sounds closer to your original phrase in emotional context, (i.e. more urgent).

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