Here's a passage (more or less taken randomly) from the American Standard Version of the Bible from 1901:

1 Peter 3:14 (ASV)
14 But even if ye should suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled;

The bolded words are the grammatical form I'm asking about. It's extremely common in the older translations of the Bible, which make them difficult to read. These days, I think most people would say "do not fear their fear" of "don't be afraid of their fear" instead. In fact, a 1995 update reads:

1 Peter 3:14 (NASB)
14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,

(There's a footnote on"intimidation" saying "Lit fear", so my first update matches exactly.)

Reading up on Early Modern English I haven't been able to discover a name for this word ordering or any history about the change. Can y'all give me some pointers?

I'm not sure if this part of the question is on-topic, but when I find this form would I be safe in mechanically changing it from:

verb not


do not verb

Are there instances that will break the meaning by doing this?

  • 1
    @Matt: Not! (Which is to say, that question helpeth me not.) Feb 9, 2012 at 23:16
  • If anyone is interested, I posted a question on the Biblical Hermeneutics site about the project that prompts this question. Feb 10, 2012 at 1:39
  • Both forms appear frequently in Shakespeare, so they have both been in use for a long time.
    – Chenmunka
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:54
  • This is an imperative construction that eliminates the necessity for do-support. Personally, I prefer it. e.g., "Fear not the reaper." Just sounds cooler.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 14, 2015 at 16:11

8 Answers 8


The syntax of "N V not" ("I know not") in English is called simple negation. It was much more common in Early Modern English.

The negation pattern that is more commonly used now, "N do not V" ("I don't know") is called just plain negation (it is the unmarked (expected) form).

  • 3
    To add to your second paragraph: "N do not V" is said to exhibit do-support.
    – ruakh
    Feb 10, 2012 at 2:43
  • Right. Negative placement requires that negation occur after the first auxiliary verb. Whether there's an auxiliary verb in the clause or not. So you have to go out and get an auxiliary verb, and the one you get is do. This is called do-support, as ruakh points out. Feb 10, 2012 at 3:00
  • I am no native english speaker, but as far as I can remember the "not" needs to go after an auxiliary verb, and not any verb. Can anybody confirm this? This would imply that "N V not" is not correct unless V is auxiliary. Wikipedia says: "Questions are formed by subject–auxiliary inversion (unless the interrogative word is part of the subject). If there is otherwise no auxiliary, the verb do (does, did) is used as an auxiliary, enabling the inversion. This also applies to negation: the negating word not must follow an auxiliary, so do is used if there is no other auxiliary."
    – funforums
    Sep 4, 2015 at 14:35
  • @funforums in Modern English there are two perfectly reasonable alternatives: 'I do not think' and 'I think not'. In the second one (much less frequent than the former), the verb is not an auxiliary.
    – Mitch
    Sep 4, 2015 at 15:00
  • @Mitch: thanks for your answer. This corroborates the thesis that this answer proposes. However, is this indeed grammatically correct or just a common usage? dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/negation This page also states that 'not' should follow an auxiliary, a modal or the verb 'be'.
    – funforums
    Sep 4, 2015 at 15:08

The mechanical change from the verb+not form to do not+verb form that you ask about works ok for the vast majority of verb+not cases I've encountered. But some instances break. For example, "Imagine not being at home" typically is a suggestion or command meaning "Imagine what it would be like if you were not at home." That is somewhat different than the command "Do not imagine being at home."

This instance illustrates that slightly more context or information than verb+not is required; the example's form actually is verb+not+gerund and not modifies the gerund rather than the verb.

Note, although the mechanical change fails for many verb+not+gerund cases, it works ok for some. Example: "Fear not being sad" has exactly the same meaning as "Do not fear being sad", except on those occasions when it has the meaning "Be afraid of not being sad".

  • Excellent point. When you use the word "command" it makes me wonder if the question is about negating the imperative mood of the verb. (Wikipedia tells me that it's the prohibitive mood). Feb 9, 2012 at 23:52
  • When there are two verbs in a sentence, there are two clauses, and either can be negated, depending on the placement of the negative and the type of subordinate clause. Mar 30, 2014 at 18:55

Poking around a bit (and reading jwpat7's answer), I think I'm asking about a change in the construction of the prohibitive mood. The affirmative command would be "fear" and according the chart on Wikipedia, the negation would be either "do not fear" or "you will not fear". In Early Modern English, the negation was "fear not". So that answers my "what is it called" question, I think.

I haven't yet found anything about the history of the change, however.

  • 2
    See Do-support. The simple negative arose in late Old English by the operation of Jespersen's cycle. After do-support entered the language (according to some, by Welsh influence), it began to be specialised to negative, interrogative and emphatic uses. My theory of why do-negation ousted simple negation is that simple negation violated English's preference for Head-modifier order.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 10, 2012 at 13:33

I'd say the device of putting "not" after a verb in order to negate it is simply negation. It's no different to putting un-, in-, dis- before the verb, and I doubt linguists or grammarians have special different words for each particular method.

Lately, as I'm sure most will know and many will be annoyed by, there's a trend to put "not" at the end of an entire sentence to negate it...

I think this is a really interesting question - not.

I've no idea how to punctuate that, as it seems to be primarily a spoken form.

  • You are probably right about there not being a name for the word order. Feb 9, 2012 at 23:38
  • @Jon Ericson: I'm pretty sure there is an obscure literary term for transposing normal word order for rhetorical/poetic effect, but if I couldn't be bothered to remember it in college many decades ago, I can't be bothered to google it now. OP might call foul, on the grounds that it covers all such transpositions, and he wants a special one for putting not after the verb instead of do not before it (in imperative commands only! :) Feb 9, 2012 at 23:47
  • I had the devil of a time getting anything useful from Google without first knowing the name of what I'm searching for. (My primary reason for asking was to get some traction on searching for more information by having some sort of search term, however imperfect. ;-) Feb 10, 2012 at 0:21
  • 1
    @Jon Ericson: Soz for being snarky. I hadn't noticed you were the OP, obviously, but I also hadn't realised you were asking about the history of verb+not. I don't think there's much in that to be honest though - my guess is that trailing not probably originally functioned pretty much like a Latin suffix/inflection, that has now become archaic because we've evolved a better way to express the negation earlier. It's always better to get the important things in first, and the fact of negation is usually pretty important in any utterance (unless you're Wayne, saying nothing important! :) Feb 10, 2012 at 0:40
  • 2
    @Gnawme,Jon: Warming to my theme of why the negation marker "moves leftward" (spoken earlier, so it's easier to know straight off you're dealing with negation instead of having to "semantically backpedal" when it finally arrives), I suppose we should expect the currently "pidgin" form "I not see the chicken" to eventually become standard English. Feb 10, 2012 at 1:05

I don't know that there's a name for it. "Not" used to function as an adverb. Just as you could say "walk slowly", i.e. "slowly" is saying how you should walk, you could say "fear not", i.e. "not" is saying how you should fear, in this case, not at all. But in modern English we don't use "not" as an adverb any more, so you need the alternative construction "do not fear". (Or, of course, alternate wordings, like "don't be afraid of ...")

(Reminds me of a Sunday School play I once saw where the narrator read, "And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid." And so the angel appears and the actors playing the shepherds scream in terror. Then the angel says, "Fear not!" But the shepherds continue to scream. So the angel cries, "What part of 'fear not' don't you understand?!")

  • 2
    According to a dictionary "not" is still an adverb. (The definition reminded me that there was a slang usage that has thankfully died away. Not!) Feb 9, 2012 at 22:27
  • 1
    Good point -- about still being an adverb I mean. In "do not fear" it's still functioning as an adverb, modifying "do". I need to rethink the theory behind my answer. It's still an adverb, but we've restricted the set of verbs that it's "allowed" to modify.
    – Jay
    Feb 9, 2012 at 22:35
  • 3
    Not is no more an "adverb" than the is an "adjective". Not is a logical operator; it's usually found in English fused with an auxiliary of some sort. Negation has heavy-duty syntax and semantics. Feb 9, 2012 at 23:28
  • 2
    Easily. It's just that there's something magical about learning the names of the POS and bestowing them. It's a mythological view of grammar, with Good and Bad, magic words (nominative case, future tense, pluperfect, perfect passive participle). But it's all just myths, with zombie rules. Real English syntax is very interesting, but it's hard to find. Feb 10, 2012 at 4:48
  • 1
    @Jay: I guess it all depends on what your purpose is in classifying. Many biologists today avoid the term "reptile" because genetically birds are a kind of reptile, so the traditional class of reptiles is only part of a clade and not something they want to talk about ("paraphyletic" is the word). That doesn't stop ordinary people, and even biologists when they're talking informally, from referring to "reptiles". In the same way, you can go on talking about "adverbs", but John is pointing out that the term is inadequate for any serious analysis.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 12, 2012 at 1:24

I suggest that part, if not all, of the answer as to why "fear not" is used rather than "do not fear" is to do with poetry and scanning.


No you can't mechanically replace "verb not" with "do not verb". For example, "I know not to run with scissors" (which makes sense) would become "I do not know to run with scissors" (which doesn't really).

  • But 'not' here belongs to 'to run', not to 'know'. That is something completely different. Feb 10, 2012 at 18:15
  • Yes, but if you're mechanically changing it, as the OP suggests, then your mechanical device can't tell this.
    – user16269
    Feb 11, 2012 at 2:58

Apparently, postverbal negation is the (or a) rather obvious term used in the trade:

Postverbal negation and the lexical split of not [Morgan Macleod; CUP; 2019]


  • In Early Modern English, verbal negation was commonly expressed by the addition of not directly after a lexical verb, a construction which subsequently underwent a pronounced decline in frequency as part of broader changes in verbal syntax. Even after the rise of the auxiliary do, however, constructions with the same surface form as the earlier pattern have continued to be used as a stylistically marked alternative. Data from the Hansard Corpus are presented here to show an increase in the frequency of these constructions since the mid twentieth century.The syntactic environments in which contemporary postverbal negation occurs are compared to the patterns existing in Early Modern English, and evaluated in the light of trends within constituent negation. The interpretation proposed is that a lexical split has occurred to produce two separate lexemes of the form not, with different syntactic properties. Postverbal negation would thus occur in Present-day English when speakers choose to make use of the new lexeme....

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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