I have heard many people say 'shouldn't it be ...' when correcting someone but today I was writing a formal email and I did not want to use any shorthand notation so I tried to expand it as 'should not it be ...' but this sounds wrong to me. Instead, 'should it not be ...' sounds correct.
I am wondering if this is a weird exception where the shorthand notation makes no sense if we tried to expand it as it is without restructuring the sentence. Are there more such examples?

  • 4
    No, not an exception. In nineteenth century literature, you come across people saying "Did not you...?", "Should not it...?" and the like, but today we always say "Did it not...?" and "Should it not...?" when we don't wish to use the contraction. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 9:17
  • Yes @KateBunting; if not short-forms, they may be used such that 'not' comes last. Am I not? Are we not? Are you not? Is he/she/it not? Are they not? Do they not? Did they not? Will they not?...etc.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 18:37
  • Does this answer your question? Why do not we ask negative questions without a contraction on the not after the verb?
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 3:36

2 Answers 2


As you have noticed, contractions like shouldn't are not the same syntactically as their full versions.

Syntactically, shouldn't etc. behave like auxiliaries (eg should): they precede the subject when there is an inversion (eg in questions).

Should not is not one word, and does not behave like one word. The should is the auxiliary and precedes the subject when there is an inversion. The not is another part of the verb string, normally following the first auxiliary (I am not seeing him; I will not be seeing him; I should not have been seeing him), but in inversion it follows the subject.


The word order "Should not it be" is not incorrect, but it is a bit dated. The contraction however remained out of convenience, and it's not intended to be expanded directly. This is not at all an exception. For instance:

Couldn't it be...

Hadn't it been...

Wouldn't you have...

None of these are idiomatic when expanded in place.


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