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I saw this sentence in the book 1Q84:

It's not just you that don't know.

However, I am having trouble figuring out why (or whether) this is the correct way to write the sentence, as opposed to:

It's not just you that doesn't know.

Now, according to owl.purdue.edu, we should use "doesn't" when the subject is singular (except when the subject is "you" or "I"), and "don't" otherwise. But in the example above, I am having a hard time figuring out what exactly the subject is and whether it is singular.


The reason my question is different from John's is that in John's, the subject is clearly "you." However, as I tried to articulate above, I am having a hard time figuring out what exactly the subject is in the quotes I gave and whether it is singular.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, tchrist May 26 at 20:30

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    Is the referent of "you" by any chance plural? In that case, "don't" would be correct: It's not just you (guys) that don't know. – Gustavson May 26 at 17:18
  • "It's not just you that don't know" grates on my ears. – Cascabel May 26 at 18:14
  • @Gustavson the referent is singular. – Cam May 26 at 18:35
  • @Cascabel, me too, which is part of why I asked this question. But I'm having trouble articulating why exactly it grates on my ears. – Cam May 26 at 18:36
  • I think it depends on register, and as has been pointed out elsewhere, this would seem to be an upper register by the construction (cleft). So the rule should be to keep it completely grammatical. Nevertheless, it still sounds off... – Cascabel May 26 at 18:42
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I may be flying in the face of the opinions of the professional grammarians here, but I will say that arguably...

It's not just you that doesn't know.

...is better.

Consider the common expressions...

"Who knows?" "Who doesn't know...?"

We do not say "Who know?"

...and as we have seen all too often from the prescriptivists, "who" should be used for people, and "that" for things in relative clauses.

So...re-writing the sentence with "who" we have...

"It's not just you who does not know."

I think that is the reason why the other (with "don't") sounds off.

It is not grammar...it is usage. It doesn't sound right because of the idiomatic expression..."Who knows".

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