I was trying to test my algorithm to create sentences that express the lack of something. I found saying for instance:

I lack 5 apples

weird as compared to

I do not have 5 apples

While thinking about this, I noticed that the closest word to do not which is used so frequently is don't which is not really a word, neither is it accepted officially. Yet, I couldn't think of any alternative I am aware of. Could it be that there are some unpopular words for any of these? If not, do you think this is worth having a word for?

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    In some contexts, you could say you lack [whatever it is you don't have], but I don't really think this question has legs. I'd like to say it's therefore legless, but that doesn't exactly work. Nov 12, 2012 at 21:44
  • lol. Thanks. Don't really understand how using a negation with do in do not became so popular preventing the use of something simpler with time.. a natural tendency to not believe in stuff? It was quite interesting to me though... Nov 12, 2012 at 21:48
  • You might use need; or even want although using that to express a lack rather than a desire is a little archaic nowadays.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 12, 2012 at 21:54
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    Where do you get the notion that "don't" isn't really a word, or that it's not "accepted officially"? I don't understand that at all. (Don't get confused by it being a non-standard contraction of does not).
    – J.R.
    Nov 12, 2012 at 22:25
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    Chibueze Opata Firstly, your seed (the word you started off with), which is lack, generally means a deficiency, a shortfall, a missing item or quantity and so on. Lacking is not simply the opposite of having. You must probably be asking -- I want to say "I xxx something " as the exact opposite of "I have something ": so, what would be the word xxx?
    – Kris
    Nov 13, 2012 at 9:18

3 Answers 3


When you say "I lack five apples", it means that you're five apples short of some requirement, e.g., there are twenty-five people coming to dinner, desert is baked apple, but you have only 20 apples. People who consistently do stupid things are said to "lack common sense".

When you say "I don't have five apples", it means that someone's asked you for five apples, e.g., on Halloween, there are five trick-or-treaters on your doorstep and you don't have an apple for each, but you don't have anything else to give them either.

Writing or saying "I do not have five apples" is really weird to me unless it's an example of how to say and write "don't" without using the contraction, which almost all native speakers use most of the time, except when they want to emphasize the negative: "No, I do not have five apples, contrary to your pigheaded belief that I do!"

"Don't" really is an official word and has been for centuries. It's used all over the anglophone world. It's discouraged or prohibited only in formal expository prose and in classrooms run by anal-retentive prescriptivists who think it's "vulgar". One of the great achievements of the early Renaissance was publishing books and newspaper in the vulgate. The King James Bible online shows 4,460 instances of "don't" in its modern translation (that's official enough for many Americans).

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    Huh? I was taught English as a kid believing you don't use don't in formal letters, since it's a sort of abbreviation and as a result, I grew up to believe that it's not formal. Thanks for this though. Nov 13, 2012 at 6:19
  • @Chibueze Opata: Things have changed since you learned that prohibition. They've loosened up on using contractions in many kinds of writing. By the end of the century, or maybe sooner, even publishers of formal expository prose will allow contractions in academic journals and formal texts of all kinds. They're not really abbreviations; they're shortened versions of words. They actually make reading easier (abbrevs don't), so the bias against them is really kind of stupid. I prefer a greater rather than a lesser degree of formality in my prose, but I've got no problem using contractions.
    – user21497
    Nov 13, 2012 at 7:02

Bill Franke explains why the negation doesn't work. The simplest solution is to turn your back on the largely obsolete “lack” (along with the entirely obsolete “want”) and say simply:

I have 5 apples too few.

This has the great advantage of also giving you your algorithm for an excess:

I have 5 apples too many.

And when you have exactly the right quantity:

I have enough apples.

Moreover, you don't have to worry about contractions.

  • But I still ain't got my 5 apples...
    – Jim
    Nov 13, 2012 at 1:56
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    @Jim - Count again. If you ain't got 5 you mought have 10. Nov 13, 2012 at 1:58

How about "I am without five apples"?

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