If I have three consecutive words where each adjacent pair can be contracted, e.g. "I would have" or "You are not", is there a difference between the two possible contractions, e.g. "I would've" or "You aren't" versus "I'd have" or "You're not"? If so, when is each form preferred?

Does the preference depend on what comes after it (such as its part of speech), e.g. "You are not a fool" versus "You are not foolish" versus "You are not going to fool me?"

  • i think that I've not or You're not are correct .we can write them in place of I have not or You are not .it's a short terminology for them Commented May 17, 2012 at 15:45
  • 3
    Difference in meaning? No, I haven't been able to think of one. There may be times when one alternative sounds a little more natural then the other, but I'm not aware of any rule that would dictate the usage of one form over the other.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 15:56
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    You forgot that you can get a triple contraction. People routinely say I’d’ve for “I would have”.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:44
  • Also, You'ren't.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 20:42
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    @tchrist: those're double contractions, not triple. 'Tisn't a big deal, though. ;^)
    – J.R.
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 1:25

4 Answers 4


Negation and in particular how negative contraction competes with verb contraction is a very large area of research. For example, The Longman grammar of spoken and written English devotes thirty pages to it, and there's some information in the appendix, too. Since there is so much detail there, and your question is about "I've not" vs. "I haven't", I'll answer that particular question.

Several posters suggested that "I've not" might be a Britishism. However, various researchers argued that with the verb "have" there is a very strong preference for negative contraction even in British English:

I haven't is much preferred to I've not. (The Longman student grammar of spoken and written English, 2002: 242)

They haven't finished is more common than They've not finished (Greenbaum 1992: 684 in The Oxford companion to the English language)

The Longman grammar of spoken and written English (1999) has Table A.8 in the appendix (on p. 1132). In that table, you can also see that "haven't" is "overwhelmingly the preferred choice" (p. 1131).

It's not entirely clear whether you're interested in the lexical or auxiliary "have". In any case, even in British English the lexical verb "have" sounds formal or old-fashioned (e.g. I haven't a brother). Corpus studies have shown that this use of "have" is pretty rare - the more usual being "I haven't got a brother" (BrE) or "I don't have a brother" (AmE and BrE).

  • +1 for the good references, thanks! Though I've generally observed that "I haven't" is much more common than "I've not", one exception is "You're not going to fool me" as in my last example. Is it to stress the "not", I wonder?
    – Gnubie
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 14:26
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    @Gnubie, with the verb "be" it's a completely different story. A rule of thumb is that "when be contraction is possible, it is strongly favored over not contraction" (LGSWE). The authors of the Longman grammar also argue that "this preference is particularly strong with first- and second-person pronouns."
    – Alex B.
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 15:42

Whether to contract an auxiliary verb with a following negative (haven't, aren't, isn't, etc.), or with a preceding subject (I've, you're, he's, etc.) is pretty much a stylistic decision, and practice varies. With some exceptions (e.g, *amn't), either is possible.

In particular, I've not, you've not, etc. is much more common in UK English than in American English, where I/You haven't is the norm. Saying I've not seen that yet in the USA will suggest a British accent, and is the form we'd expect from an RP speaker.

As with many other constructions, saying I've not instead of I haven't, without also having an RP accent may suggest a certain formality, and possibly stuffiness, to some people.

  • Thanks, John. I was unaware of the UK/US difference. I've added some examples of context to the question. Does your observation still hold?
    – Gnubie
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:35
  • I’ve no disagreement there. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:47

In general, there is no real difference in meaning. This can be seen by expanding the contractions. There may be reasons to choose one form over the other, however. Here are two that come to mind:

  • Common usage: For whatever reason, some contractions with equivalent forms are just more frequent. For example, I haven't is more common than I've not. You may prefer the former to avoid standing out.

  • Grammatical context: You may wish to choose a contraction based on the grammatical context in which it appears. For example, contracting I have not into I haven't is correct when the have is non-auxiliary in function (e.g. "I haven't a clue"). See this answer.

  • Thanks, Cameron. I wasn't aware of the US non-auxiliary function difference. I edited my question to give some context examples. In each example, which form is preferred?
    – Gnubie
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:37
  • @Gnubie There isn’t actually any “US non-auxiliary difference”. You can prove this by observing that you can contract when it is non-auxiliary by moving the negation from not a to no: “I’ve no clue.” == “I haven’t a clue”, or “I haven’t got an answer” == “I’ve no answer.”
    – tchrist
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:46
  • @Gnubie In each of the examples you added, either form can be used. In general, "You're not…" seems to be a little more common than "You aren't…", but they both seem normal to me.
    – Cameron
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 16:49
  • @tchrist You're of course right that there is no rule against contracting have when it is non-auxiliary. Certainly, however, not using a contraction in this case is far more common, especially in US English.
    – Cameron
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 17:33
  • That Ngram has a peculiar spike over the last two decades. (I've no clue why that is, though.)
    – J.R.
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 10:14

"I haven't seen any" became: "I've not seen any" ... with the 1980 film "The Empire Strikes Back". Sadly, it has become acceptable literary cannon, in recent years.


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