n't
by Paul Niquette
Copyright 2005 by Paul Niquette. All rights reserved.
 

n't contraction of not adv. 

In no way; to no degree.  Used to express negation, denial, refusal, prohibition.  In informal speech and writing, 'not' is often contracted and suffixed to auxiliary verbs, doesn't, aren't, won't. [Middle English reduced from naught, nothing, not, Old English nowiht, nawiht.]
One can, as the song goes, "accentuate the positive" -- but only so much.  Meanwhile, "eliminate the negative" is practical advice for neither speaking nor writing.  In no way can one not use "not" (see, for example, Software Does Not Fail).  Indeed...
In any sentence in which it appears, "not" is the most important word.
...which is precisely why I don't use "n't."   Well, maybe I do every once in awhile.  Like for the title of this book.

See here: suffixed to the word "do," the adverb "n't" has the power to modify both the pronunciation and spelling of the root verb.  Same for "shall" and "will."  That's not shabby.  Everywhere else, though, "n't" doesn't, so I shan't, thus assuring that, suffixed and apostrophed, "n't" won't get underlooked by listeners and readers.
 


Epilog

Every sentence in a message from my brother Alan, a noted playwright, was polluted with n'ts and concluded with "[I] won't re-write any of my scripts on the basis of your article." 

By happenstance, my brother's rejection called to mind the puzzle "Syllables of Recorded Time" and inspired a few observations...

Suffixed to "will" and "can" and "do," n't saves a syllable...

  • Fine, if syllables need saving, but n't doesn't in "doesn't" nor when agglomerated to just about any other auxiliary verb ("could," "would," and "should," "has" and "have," "was" and "is" -- oh right, "are" is an exception).
  • Moreover, that single-syllable "ain't" doesn't even exist with no n't?
In musical literature, by the way, the syllable isn't saved but merely borrowed and repaid ("I can't get no satisfaction") -- occasionally with interest ("Don't you come back no more, no more, no more").
 
  • In French and surely in other languages, "not" is so important it appears in pairs before and after the verb,  je ne sais pas translates to "I no know not." 
  • In proper English, though, double negatives are forbidden, for they logically cancel each other out and make a positive, as in the signboard on the right, which means "yes."


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