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  • In spoken English, not becomes n't when attached to an auxiliary which is not itself abbreviated.
    • I've not heard much. // I haven't heard much.
    • I'm not sure. // I ain't going. (ain't is fairly widespread colloquial American)

  • I personally do not combine n't with may, might or shall. compare at google: couldn't // mayn't // shan't

  • Usage rules are fairly strict. In formal writing abbreviations are to be avoided. The only accepted use of the apostrophe in formal writing is generally to indicate the possessive / genitive case. This is a prescriptivist, but pragmatically important, rule to know.

In written dialogue, the apostrophe is nevertheless common. An example:

Counselor: You couldn't have known that Doug wasn't coming.

Therapist: I didn't know; and I wouldn't have re-arranged my schedule if I hadn't thought he would be there.

Counselor: He hasn't been coming to those meetings for several weeks.

Therapist: I won't make the same mistake twice. Next time, if he isn't coming, I ain't going either!

Counselor: We should send the secretary a message Thursday, don't you think, just to confirm?

Therapist: Oh, you mustn't have heard, the secretary resigned yesterday.

Counselor: Oh no, he shouldn't have. I'm not surprised though. The bosses weren't happy about all the criticism last month. Things may not have been perfect, but at least things got done when he was here.

Therapist: Absolutely.
Back to Doug again. Doesn't he have a cell phone?

Counselor: I'm not sure, I haven't got a number. I can't find his email address either.

The Therapist's cellphone rings.

Therapist: You're not going to believe this. It's Doug.

. . .

Remember: the apostrophe has two uses in English:

  1. it represents a missing sound:
    • the o of not
    • the i of is (it's, he's, she's, something's, there's)
    • the a of are (you're, we're, they're)
    • the a of am (I'm sorry.)
    • the ha of have, had (I've got a cold, If I'd known you were sick, ...)
    • the woul of would: (... I'd have brought chocolate. You'd like chocolate, no?)
    • the wi of will: they'll call back.
  2. it represents possession:
    • Sofiane's / Luke's / Zeke's / Mohammed's / the students' notebooks.


Negations of this sort are considered to be adverbs by almost all dictionaries, like the words yes and no. Some Indo-European examples:

  • nicht (Germ.)
  • non (Lat.)
  • pas (Fr.)
  • nje (не) (Russ.)


Some deny the existence of determiners (articles, demonstratives, quantifiers), so the idea that a grammatical class such as predeterminers should exist is not always welcomed easily, especially by those who teach what is known in France as la grammaire scolaire.

  • Not a one
  • Not everybody
  • not some time later (6m examples at Google, not a few of which are difficult to evaluate grammatically)
  • not a few of which
  • not the least of which

In any case, it is clear that the boundaries between adverbs and determination in the noun phrase (particularly deictic determination: today, tomorrow, this, that) are relatively fuzzy. At least four of the examples would clearly seem to be noun phrases.

scope (portée)

An example of scope ambiguity:

  • You can't give this plant too much water.
    • It is impossible to give the plant too much water. (not negates can / possibility)
    • You mustn't give the plant too much water or you will kill it. (predicate = NOT give this plant too much water)

double negation

In French ne... pas generally appear together. In English there is also complex interaction between not and other elements of the phrase, particularly pronouns.

  • not... any

In some Englishes, double negation is permissible:

  • I can't get no satisfaction.

A common mistake made by French speakers is to use "not... some" instead of "not... any"

adverb / nominal