1

Same with "wouldn't you..." because it would directly mean "would not you..."

If the goal is to communicate "would you not" or "were you not," is this a legitimate structure?

Example: Weren't you planning on going to the store? -> were not you planning on going to the store?

1
  • 8
    There are linguists who base their ideas on how languages are actually used - they're called "descriptivists" - and there are those who believe that there are language rules which are either correctly or incorrectly applied - those are the "prescriptivists." A descriptivist would obviously say that "weren't you" is correct because it's very common (actually more common than "were you not"). So then, this question would seem to be: "Are there any prescriptivist grammarians who think that 'weren't you' is incorrect?" That opinion might be out there somewhere, but it's not very common.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 18:49

1 Answer 1

9

It's absolutely considered grammatically correct. Remember, languages change over time, and abbreviations being added to languages is normal, sometimes leaving the abbreviation in common usage but the expanded form not in common usage.

This is one of those cases. The abbreviated usages are correct and very common:

  • Wouldn't you...?
  • Weren't you...?
  • Won't you...?
  • etc.

whereas their expanded forms, though still technically grammatically correct, are NOT common:

  • Would not you...?
  • Were not you...?
  • Will not you...?

Update:

Let me also add there's some really good comments and additions here, and I should note that the correct archaic form (think Shakespearean speak, or King James version of the Bible talk) is to use subject-verb inversion for interrogative sentences, which I'm pretty confident we adopted from French (see: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/inversion/), since tons of English comes directly from French. In other words, the correct archaic interrogative order would be Verb + Subject + negative, like this:

  • Would you not...?
  • Were you not...?
  • Will you not...?

Though in the imperative positive (or interrogative with inflection) it is Subject + Verb, like this:

  • You would...(./!/?)
  • You were...(./!/?)
  • You will...(./!/?)

However, the pronouns and verbs aren't correct for the archaic form, as "you" is actual the formal 2nd person pronoun, and "thou" is the informal (familiar, but archaic) 2nd person pronoun, and we got rid of the informal verbal conjugations and reduced English verbal conjugations down from 3 forms to 2 in modern-day English (as opposed to 6 verbal conjugations of Romance languages like Spanish and French), so the real archaic English negative expanded forms would be something more like this (I could be off a little on the verbal conjugations, as I could use some references myself to verify these--this is just from my memory from when I lived in the 1500 and 1600 hundreds):

  • Wouldst thou not...?
  • Wast thou not...?
  • Wilt thou not...?

...and for kicks (note to non-native English speakers: meaning: "...and for fun"):

  • Knowest thou not...?
  • Wist thou not...? <-- my favorite; it also means "You didn't know...?", from the ancient verb "to wit", of course. :)

Notice the archaic 2nd person "thou" pronoun instead of the modern day (technically formal "you"), and the modified verbal conjugations for each verb to make them properly correspond to the informal/familiar "thou" pronoun, instead of the formal singular/plural "you" pronoun.

5
  • 10
    I wouldn't say they're "technically grammatically correct". There's no "technicality" involved. Some people are taught that they're "correct", which is not true, and that's the "technical" part -- some people think they are because they've been led astray. So pay no attention to those people. The actual reason why this works is that the Subject-Auxiliary Inversion rule, moves whole words, and once an auxiliary is contracted with not, it becomes a whole word and has to be moved as a unit. Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 19:13
  • 1
    @JohnLawler On behalf of those like myself who've been led astray by Shakespeare I say "do we not bleed?". Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 19:43
  • 5
    Do we not always speak this way? Spoke we not always so. Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 20:05
  • 3
    This is all true, though I think most native speakers if forced to avoid contractions would expand it would change the word order. "Were not you going to the store?" is grammatically correct but sounds odd. "Were you not going to the store?" sounds overly formal, but not otherwise strange. Regional variations may apply. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 2:44
  • @TimothyAWiseman Not necessarily "formal", but it certainly changes the emphasis (and, subtly, the meaning) of the sentence. And, while "weren't you going to the shops?" / "weren't you going to the shops?" / "weren't you going to the shops?" are all fairly similar in both "weren't you" & "were you not" form, "weren't you going to the shops?"* can be "were you not going to the shops?" or "were you not going to the shops?" Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 10:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.