I have a smattering of exposure to several languages, and it appears to me that many languages allow a simpler* negation than we usually use in English. They allow the insertion of a word like no or not, without any additional verb.
For example in Spanish we can negate the sentence Yo como (I eat) as Yo no como (I do not eat). No Spanish word corresponds to the word do, which we add in English.
I do the dishes in the morning? Cool. I don't the dishes at night? Something's wrong.
There are a few archaic exceptions.
- There's a sort of archaic negative imperative, as in Ask not what your country can do for you. Yoda approached it with his injunction Do or do not.
- And in the archaic indicative, Ophelia mentioned to Laertes a certain proud and reckless libertine who recks not his own reed.
But most of us, living neither a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away nor in Elizabethan Denmark, would find other phrasings more natural. We seem to use negations pretty exclusively in multi-word verb forms. For example:
- In infinitives: I like to not go, or I like not to go (with various degrees of clunkiness)
- With helping verbs: I am [not] swimming.
But usually, we not just add not.
So what ever happened to English? Is there an interesting story behind our inability to negate simply?
NB: When I use the words "simple" and "simpler," I'm not thinking about whether children growing up in various places find it easy or hard to learn the local language, or about whether adult native speakers find it easy or hard to communicate, or about whether adults learning a given language as a second language find that easy or hard to do. I'm not thinking about difficulty at all. I'm just referring to the addition of a single word as "simpler" than the addition of a group of words, for reasons that seem obvious to me but which I find I cannot explain at all. The "simple negation" of my title, and the "simpler negation" of my first sentence, is simply (that is, onewordishly) a one-word negation.