Can I ask "Is not he calling me"?



  1. "Is not he calling me?"

  2. "Isn't he calling me?"

Why is #1 not correct while #2 is correct?

And what about the below:

  1. "Is he not calling me?"

Does #3 always mean the exact same thing as #2 "Isn't he calling me?"


Posted 2014-12-14T19:33:53.693

Reputation: 3 999

Question was closed 2014-12-15T08:22:57.180

It would have to be "is he not calling me" - the abbreviation prevents that word order, but is the common usage. I think the long form is too clumsy, and it also subtly changes the meaning - but haven't put this as an answer as I'm sure there must be a more technical reason! It is a good question though! – Mark Williams – 2014-12-14T23:13:38.817



When we make yes/no questions in English, we usually invert the subject and the auxiliary verb. The auxiliary verb and the subject change places. In the sentence:

  • He is calling me.

The subject is he and the auxiliary is is. If we make a normal yes/no question, he and is change places like this:

  • Is he calling me?

Notice that we cannot move the words calling me. There is no special reason to move these words.

We have the same situation if we have a normal negative sentence:

  • He is not calling me.

Again, we can make a yes/no question. We can invert the subject he and the auxiliary is. We do not move the other words:

  • Is he not calling me?

Notice that there is no special reason to move any of these words: not or calling or me. We don't have a special reason to move the word not in this example.

However, we can have a different version of the negative sentence. We can contract the auxiliary is and the negative word not. This gives us the contraction isn't:

  • He isn't calling me.

This time, when we invert the subject and the auxiliary, the whole contraction isn't will invert with the subject. The auxiliary, is, will pull the n't section with it:

  • Isn't he calling me.

We can only move n't here because it is attached to is. The word not can only move to a new position because it is joined to is! If we do move it, it will sound very strange.

Hope this is helpful!

Why would we use Is he not calling me?

This question-form does not appear in the Original Poster's question. This form is likely to be used when the speaker expected that 'he' was going to call, but later finds out that he isn't. It is probably a 'checking' question. The speaker is checking that he isn't calling. Because of this, the speaker will give the word not contrastive stress. We can do this more emphatically if the word not is separated from the auxiliary.

  • Is he not calling?

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2014-12-14T19:33:53.693

Reputation: 25 536

1Is "Isn't he calling me?" the negation of "Is he calling me?" Since the first has a matrix negation, then that would mean the first means the opposite of the second (similar to how "He isn't calling me" is the negation of "He is calling me"), wouldn't it? :D – F.E. – 2014-12-15T06:30:29.420

See this question with 200 bonus, perhaps you could glom on it with one of your older answers?

– F.E. – 2014-12-15T23:40:33.910

What happened to all the comments that I had left? Weren't they in this thread? – F.E. – 2014-12-16T05:30:47.277

I don't know if you were able to read my comments before they all mysteriously disappeared. Let me know if you had. There was about 4-6 of them, if I remember right, and the last was written a few hours ago. (I'd like to know what the heck is going on?! I'm wondering if this thread was on the reopen queue and somehow the comments are getting "voted on" for deletion?) – F.E. – 2014-12-16T06:06:44.437

@F.E. No :( They'd disappeared by the time I'd had my first coffee and turned on the computer ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T10:52:38.197

1This place is becoming as bad as EL&U: my comments getting deleted, SWRs, too many closed threads. I'll try to put remember some of them. -- One was that my use of "glom" was similar to what was in the dictionary, somewhat. Another that catenative verb with "NP and infinitive" has NP always as matrix object, though the NP by itself might not be a semantic argument of matrix verb. (#1) – F.E. – 2014-12-16T14:41:45.427

1Info related to "preposition who(m)" as in that EL&U thread: CGEL page 465-6 in "(d) Object of a preceding preposition", and some interesting stuff in Change in Contemporary English (Leech, Hundt, Mair, Smith) pages 13-16 with #14 about a lapidary inscription on a tombstone (section 1.2). But I cherry pick from that book because it has the known weaknesses of too small of corpuses and range of only 30 years, which makes it very vulnerable to the effects of fads on one or both ends. And there are errors in it, due to not being vetted adequately, some parts not vetted at all. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T14:52:27.093

1Oh, another tidbit about catenative: matrix "see" has both kinds of semantic argument (of NP), where the NP alone is argument or else where NP is combined with infinitival to become a matrix argument. This discussed in CGEL pages 1236-7. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T14:56:56.497

1This will probably make you happy: I now do not consider "concealed passive" to be a syntactical passive. I consider it to be a "semantic-passive". To be a passive, it has to have a past-participle verb form in it (imo). -- Also, early next year, I'll be looking over a (big) book on de-generative, er, generative grammar. Oh, joy. :( – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:00:09.943

1I just put in 4 new comments (prior to this one). Hopefully they have not yet been deleted. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:05:54.403

1@F.E. Re concealed passive: Yes, it does, but mainly because I agree with you! Re CGEL "see" - what I couldn't work out is whether they regard the combined NP and infinitival as a single consituent. Elsewhere (page 57ish) they talk about NPs being semantic arguments of the subordinate verb, but syntactic DOs of the matrix - in other words the NP and the infinitival construction do not form a clausal constituent There is also therefore a mismatch between their arguments and constituents. So, it's unclear to me in the case of "see" whether they regard the NP as a DO or not ... :( – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:09:09.153

1@F.E. In my comments above, I mean when the NP and infinitival are an argument of the matrix verb ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:10:32.437

1Syntactically, in the catenative with the infinitival, the NP is always a matrix object. But semantically, the different senses/meanings of "see" has both types of arguments. This can be seen in the matrix passives of [43] -- if I remember correctly. That is, for some "see" constructions, the NP is by itself a matrix semantic argument, while in others the NP is combined with the infinitival to create a single semantic argument. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:22:19.893

1@F.E. I find that aspects of the H&P grammar a bit difficult to get along with for various reasons such as, specifically, the fact that the 'clause' seems to be able to be passivised, strongly suggesting that it is, well, a clause ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:22:34.383

Not sure what you meant in the last comment. But then I haven't yet gotten up and had any coffee. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:24:21.980

1@F.E. For your later musing then:) - other analyses have the whole argument "NP + to infinitive" as the clausal DO of the matrix verb, for certain verbs such as believe (as opposed to persuade, for example). One of the facts they point to is that this clause can be passivised with no change in the meaning of the sentence, which would be a bit odd if various bits were shifting into and out of DO position of the matrix verb. This can also be contrasted with verbs such as persuade where the meaning changes radically. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:31:20.907

1Oh, since I've gotten over 2000 rep points, I noticed that a deleted post is visible to users that have reached that threshold. That was something I was unaware of. (Which I sorta think that the contents of a deleted post should be invisible to all but the author and the highest moderators.) So, you must have enjoyed watching me fumble about as I went through the long process of writing that one answer-post. Er, . . . :) – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:31:24.963

1@F.E. That's why I knew that it was coming along well! I often repost my posts and then delete my old draft, reducing it down to a series of 'q's or '1's etc. I agree that the owner should be able to irrevocably delete them. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:32:08.933

1@F.E. Might also be useful to know that users with higher rep can also see deleted comments too! (not me). But only if they hover their mouse over the relevant place in the thread, so I believe ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:34:15.893

1I had thought that CGEL's arguments were convincing (to me at that time). Well, at various numerous times. :) -- I'll have to actually look at an opposing argumentation and spend time to compare the two, side-to-side so to speak, before I can (or should) make any meaningful comments. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:34:45.210

1@F.E. Well, imo, there's definitely a strong case both ways round and holes both ways round too ... It'll be interesting to see what you think ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-12-16T15:36:12.533

1Yes, I'm aware of higher rep users seeing "deleted" comments. Which isn't a problem to me since that's info that a user puts out in public to interact with other members, and often causes arguments and fights. But a deleted answer post isn't in that category of public-ness, imo. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:36:28.290

1But I'll probably need to see that other argumentation written down in a precise clear article/post before I then allocate time to hit that topic. :) -- I've got quite a few "grammar" plates on the burners nowadays recently. – F.E. – 2014-12-16T15:38:07.127

To speak of the devil, look at this thread which involves passivization of matrix and NP+infinitival. I don't have the time to post an answer. :)

– F.E. – 2014-12-16T17:52:45.250