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Do contractions (e.g. “don't”) and full phrases (e.g. “do not”) have the same meaning?

I frequently see contractions such as "isn't" and "wasn't" used in sentences such as:

Why wasn't she there?

Which would be equivalent to:

Why was not she there?

Which doesn't make any sense. Considering how often I see this used I thought I could find something online about it, however I haven't had any luck.

Is it grammatically correct to use "isn't" and "wasn't" in sentences like the one above, and the one below? If so, why?

Why isn't Dad home yet?

  • 1
    You might not like, "Why was not she there?" but I presume you'd have no problem with, "Why was she not there?"
    – J.R.
    Jul 9, 2012 at 21:36
  • @J.R. Correct. However I don't see how "Why wasn't she there" could expand to "Why was she not there". However if there is a reason, feel free to leave an answer :)
    – Wipqozn
    Jul 9, 2012 at 21:38
  • Isn't that acutally a fairly common usage from middle english? ... I'm asking.
    – M Yui
    Jul 9, 2012 at 21:45
  • 3
    This has been discussed several times, though mostly in comments rather than in answers, e.g. here and here. The gist of it is that your premise is false, "wasn't" simply is not equivalent to "was not".
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 9, 2012 at 21:55
  • 2
    @RegDwightΒВB Ah, okay. thank you.The answer to the first question you linked fully answers my question, so I'm flagging this to be closed as a duplicate.
    – Wipqozn
    Jul 9, 2012 at 21:57

2 Answers 2


Firstly, have a look at this (source):

enter image description here

Now, if you were to make contractions in these line, you would write:

  • Is not she a fine creature? = Isn't she a fine creature?
  • Has not she parts? = Hasn't she parts?
  • Is not her beauty natural... = Isn't her beauty natural...

This kind of usage is now archaic. According, to this usage, you would simply write isn't she as is not she, hasn't she as has not she, and so on.

But nowadays, we use statements like:

  • Is she not a fine creature?
  • Has she not parts?
  • Is her beauty not natural...

As you can see, now, "not" comes after the subject. For e.g.,

  • Isn't he coming? = Is he not coming?
  • Hasn't she done it? = Has she not done it?
  • Why hasn't he come yet? = Why has he not come yet?

Maybe the operation goes like this:
start with: She was not there.
contraction: She wasn't there.
question: Why wasn't she there?

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