1. Because "aren't" translates to "are not" I pose the question, can you use both interchangeably (in the context of "aren't we all?")? "Are not" sounds very grammatically incorrect in this situation.

  2. Can you say "you need not go there" as opposed to "you needn't go there"?

Basically, I thought you can say "you need not" instead of "you needn't" but that you can't say "are not" instead of "aren't" (in the context I've provided) because I've never heard the second. My friend believes that if you can use one example interchangeably, you can use the other as well.


  1. Can you use example '1' interchangeably?
  2. Can you use example '2' interchangeably?

5 Answers 5

  1. No, you can't say "are not we all?". It is ungrammatical, as you suggest.
  2. Yes, you can say either "you need not go there" or "you needn't go there".

The reasons have to do with negative contractions and the fact that they count as a single auxiliary verb. Only one auxiliary verb may be inverted by Subject-Auxiliary Inversion, which is required by Question-Formation. This may be a contracted verb like isn't or don't, inverted with the subject as a unit. If the not is not contracted, on the other hand, then it stays where it is, after the Subject.

Thus these sentences (the "Q" means "Apply Question-Formation")

  • We are not all here. ==Q==> Are we not all here?
  • We aren't all here. ==Q==> Aren't we all here?

follow the rule for subject-auxiliary inversion, but these don't, and are therefore ungrammatical:

  • *Are not we all here?
  • *Need not you do that?

In the case of (2), there's no inversion, because it's not a question, so the contraction can be unpacked at will.

Contractions are only optional in their original sentence position.
If they're moved, they're frozen.

  • 17
    I see nothing ungrammatical with "are not we all" here. It may have a different meaning from "are we all not" and it may be uncommon, but I do see phrases like Are not we all children of God? or Are not we all brothers in arms? here and there, and don't blink at them.
    – choster
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:03
  • 5
    @choster: I see those as archaic. I would not regard them as grammatical in contemporary English.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 22:44
  • 3
    So, "Am I not a man?" is ungrammatical too??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 18:41
  • 2
    I'm not disputing the idea that this is not something you'd say or hear in any common contemporary context, but that's not quite the same as ungrammatical. And it's a recent enough usage that it will probably be encountered at least occasionally by most reasonably well-read individuals.
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 20:12
  • 2
    @Casey: Nobody is calling that ungrammatical though - it's "*are not we all" that John Lawler is (rightly) labelling as ungrammatical in modern English.
    – psmears
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 23:02

Both "are we not all" (or "are not we all") and "you need not go there" are valid here, but that is not the same as saying they are interchangeable with "aren't we all" and "you needn't go there."

In written English, I would probably opt for the written out form, and in some speeches or debates, I might use the full form for rhetorical effect. In modern conversational English, however— certainly in American English— saying are we not or you need not would sound very formal and stilted. The contracted form is overwhelmingly more common, from can't we be friends to wouldn't it be nice. If I heard the long form I would assume someone was quoting from a passage of literature, or making a show of mock pomposity.

  • 1
    You're right in saying that in spoken English "are we not all" sounds pompous, and I suppose that American English might shun from it even in writing; however, "are not we all" isn't acceptable for the reasons which Lawler so clearly outlined. This doesn't mean that no one uses it, though.
    – Paola
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:42
  • 1
    One sees practically everything in written English; after all, the majority of English writers (possibly the majority of English speakers also) are not native speakers, and even if they are, who knows what nonsense they've been taught about grammar? We see examples every day here. There are still people, after all, who believe that written English is the real deal, while spoken English is common and unimportant. Commented May 15, 2012 at 22:40
  • *Will not you please reconsider?
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 19:06

You cannot always replace aren't with are not in toto. The 'not' will move to and occupy its appropriate place in the sentence when separated from 'are', which place may not necessarily be next to 'are'.


You could. It'll sound really weird to most native English speakers since we're all taught, from a very young age, to use the contraction. It sort of flows better too, imo.

  • 2
    This is more of a comment than an answer.
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 20:37
  • 1
    That was literally an answer to his question. Every answer to every question doesn't have to be a novella. People actually learn more if you're straightforward and don't bury them in some pedantic analysis that they didn't ask you for.
    – Chib
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 21:02
  • Read the FAQ. Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 7:35
  • I don't think that we are "taught" to use the contraction; if anything, more of the teaching effort goes into getting us to not use them in formal writing.
    – Casey
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 22:33

“Are not we all” is valid English but it is not commonly used in Modern English because the contraction “aren’t” has become far more common than “are not”

“Are not we all” would be seen as either posh, archaic, or both.

Note that I am a British English Speaker and this usage may be even less common in American English.

  • 2
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 13:22
  • I'm not convinced, Martin. As J Lawler says, 'Need not you do that?' is unacceptable. And of the 3 Google hits for "Are not we all here", the surrounding grammar of two of them argues against acceptability. Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 16:54

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