How to use 'not'? Can you use 'not' after a verb?


Can you use not after a verb? Is there a correct way to use not? Are these examples correct/ interchangeable? If not what is the difference?

  • Speak not against my father / do not speak against my father
  • Fear not the dark/ Do not fear the dark
  • I did not go there/ I went not there
  • I do not like apples/ I like not apples
  • I do not like this book/ I like not this book
  • We will have not an early frost/ We will not have an early frost/ Have not an early frost we will
  • Close not the door/ Do not close the door
  • I do not prefer it/ I prefer it not/ I prefer not it
  • I knew not about his whereabouts/ I did not know about his whereabouts

Here is a tricky one:

  • I know not to run with scissors

can have two meanings: I do not know how to run with scissors Versus I know that running with scissors is a bad idea


Posted 2019-11-08T06:11:50.390

Reputation: 31



In Old English, Middle English, and Early Modern English, the normal way to negate a verb was to follow it with not, (or its predecessors)

Since the time of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, an alernative way has become more and more common - using the construction do not.

In current English, the old construction is used only with be and auxiliaries such as have, do, must, can etc. For all other verbs the "verb not" construction is obsolete.* Shakespeare and the KJ Bible are still read, so people will usually understand it; but nobody says it unless they are being deliberately archaic.

*One difference between British and American English is that British English still allows the old form with have even when it is a full verb, not an auxiliary. So

I haven't seen him (auxiliary: used in BrE and AmE)


I don't have any (full verb: used in BrE and AmE)

I haven't any (full verb: used in BrE, but rare and old-fashioned in AmE)

Colin Fine

Posted 2019-11-08T06:11:50.390

Reputation: 47 277

I would argue that '*I haven't got any' would be far more common in BrE than 'I haven't any*', unless you include what you haven't e.g '*I haven't any time for this*', but I'd still argue it's more idiomatic to include the got (rightly or wrongly) – Smock – 2019-11-08T11:48:25.357

@Smock: I agree that it's more common with got. I didn't think that was relevant to this discussion. – Colin Fine – 2019-11-08T13:52:34.853

What about "verb + no"? i have no money. I sing no songs anymore. I love no one in my life. – SovereignSun – 2019-11-08T15:04:46.477

"Verb + no" is a mis-analysis. No introduces, and is part of, a following NP. It has nothing to do with the verb. – Colin Fine – 2019-11-08T16:41:14.837


In modern English, of any variety, most of your examples have become Questions of poetry against prose, not semantics or simple grammar

"Speak not against my father" is now a poetic phrase meaning precisely "do not speak against my father"

"Fear not the dark" means precisely "Do not fear the dark"

"I went not there" is now a poetic version of "I did not go there…" and why did you switch the prosaic/poetic order in that example, please?

"I do not like apples" is a prosaic form of "I like not apples"

"I do not like this book" is a prosaic form of "I like not this book

"Close not the door" is a poetic variant of "Do not close the door"

Are those not obvious?

"I knew not about his whereabouts" looks like a poetic form of "I did not know about his whereabouts…" but that would need you to drop "about", giving "I did not know his whereabouts…"

"I do not prefer it" is a prosaic form of "I prefer it not" while "I prefer not it" has no place in modern English.

"We will have not an early frost" looks like a poetic form of "We will not have an early frost" but unless you're going for pure Middle or Old English structures, it should prolly be "We will have no early frost".

"Have not an early frost we will" reads like StarWars Yoda-speak, though you might be able to justify it in Middle or Old English.

In modern English "I know not to run with scissors" can not mean "I do not know how to run with scissors" but only "I know that running with scissors is a bad idea."

Robbie Goodwin

Posted 2019-11-08T06:11:50.390

Reputation: 559