Talk:-n't

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Although n't is historically related to not, it is not simply a short form of it, at least not anymore. Consider, for example:

  • You can not go to school and still learn a lot.
  • You can't go to school and still learn a lot.

Clearly, these two sentences have very different possible interpretations. That's why I've listed n't as a suffix rather than as a contraction. Note also that contractions contract regardless of the surrounding context, while suffixes are very peculiar about what they attach to.--Brett 14:21, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

Surely we need to say that it is related to not and, although I don't know the etymology, if it was originally derived from not (as it seems it was), we should say so.
Yes, we should. Now we do.--Brett 19:49, 29 March 2008 (UTC)
Also, I think your example above is faulty because it's not really something anyone would really say (also, vocal tone would likely clear up any confusion resulting from a strange wording like you mentioned). Most contractions that use "n't" can have the "n't" replaced by "not" and make perfect sense. For example,
  • We shouldn't eat cookies before dinner.
  • We should not eat cookies before dinner.
There are many more examples where the replacement makes sense than there are examples where the replacement doesn't make sense. If you don't like the specific wording I chose (i.e. "n't is a short form of not"), you should find another way to say what I'm trying to get across, not just delete it. · Tygrrr... 17:15, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

People most certainly do say such things. Consider this, "Our journalists think they can not work and still get a salary" from Date 1996 (Dec26) Publication information p45, 23p, 10 cartoons, 91c, 11bw Title Rock & roll yearbook. Author Dunn, Jancee Panahpour, Nilou Source Rolling Stone

You can't contranct not and still end up with the same meaning that Dunn intended. Sure, it works most of the time, but with is being contracted to 's, it works ALL of the time. That's the difference.--Brett 19:49, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

Yes, that particular example is faulty because "can't" is a shortening of "cannot"--not "can not". · Tygrrr... 20:45, 29 March 2008 (UTC)
It seems to me this "difference" is purely pragmatic rather than semantic, and based entirely on how you say the words rather than what words you say. "Can not," "cannot," and "can't" really are the same thing, and "-n't" is simply "not." This is about prosody (rhythm, intonation), not (word) meaning.--Jared 22:31, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

Tygrrr's original point was that -n't is just a short form of not, but the post above has can't as a short form of cannot but not can not. Which is it?

In answer to Jared, the sentence above with not has two possible interpretations. The sentence with -n't has only one regardless of how you say it.

A contraction contracts wherever and whenever it wants. It can come anywhere. For example, let's consider contracted is.

  • after pronouns He's a nice guy.
  • after nouns The cat's sleeping again.
  • after lexical verbs What do you think 's going to happen?
  • after prepositions Where I'm from 's not so important, is it?
  • after adjectives How old 's his Father?

In contrast, -n't can only happen after modal auxiliary verbs, and not even all of those. When it occurs with them, sometimes they change (e.g., will -> won't). When contracted is joins a word it never changes. And as we've seen above, the range of meaning can change with -n't, but it never does with contracted is. These are the characteristics of a suffix, not of a contraction.--Brett 23:24, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

No one's saying "n't" is a contraction. A contraction is a word like "I'll", "don't", should've", "she's", etc. Those contractions each use a suffix that indicate (a shortened form of) another word. In the examples I just listed, that would be "will", "not", "have" and "is", respectively. That is the idea that I feel needs to be expressed in the article. All this semantic stuff gets us nowhere and is, frankly, quite annoying. My point boils down to the idea I've just expressed. If you could find a way to get that point across in the article in a manner that pleases you, I'd appreciate it. · Tygrrr... 18:00, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

I'm afraid I don't understand what you find annoying. We have different understandings of a situation and we're trying to bring evidence to bear to establish which (if either) is correct. It's a learning experience. What could be annoying about that? As we're working on a dictionary project, it seems safe to assume that semantics is rather central to what we're doing.

Having said that, and without any intent to annoy, I must disagree with you, for the reasons I've outlined above, about don't being a contraction. And I would go on to say that 'll, 've, etc. are NOT suffixes. Since I don't seem to be expressing myself clearly enough, perhaps you would like to read an article that no doubt explains it better. Zwicky, Arnold M., & Geoffrey K. Pullum (1983) ‘Cliticization vs. inflection: English n’t’. Language 59, 502–513

As far as the entry goes, I thought the note (see not) as well as listing not as a related word would suffice, but perhaps the current wording is acceptable?--Brett 19:06, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

What it's annoying to me about it is that I feel like I'm focusing on the bigger picture while you tend to focus on (IMO) minute details and tangents that aren't necessarily related to the topic I'm trying to discuss. It's frustrating. Have you heard "don't listen to what I'm saying, hear what I mean"? I feel like you nitpick my wording, rather than discuss the topic or point I'm trying to convey.
At any rate, I think we need to focus on the most common usage and meaning, as that will be how most people are going to need to use it. I'm guessing most people who look it up don't care whether it's a suffix or contraction. Maybe you could add the link above to the page for someone who wants that very specific information. I'll grant that it's interesting, but it's not likely to be helpful to the average user. But it can be there for anyone who's interested.
I have done another copyedit, and am generally fine with what we currently have. One thing--I think we should replace the example of am not accepting "n't" with a word that can never accept it. Sometimes ain't is used to mean "am not". This subtle distinction could be confusing to some users and I think we should use a less ambiguous example. · Tygrrr... 20:33, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

I think what we have now is fine, though I'm not keen on parenthetical paraphrases; that's what the link is for. What would you suggest replacing am with? The only other option is be and that could be interpreted as referring to the whole paradigm.--Brett 23:15, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

There aren't any other auxialiary verbs that don't accept it? I'm afraid I don't know. · Tygrrr... 23:55, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

No, none. I suppose you could point out that it only attaches to tensed forms but not participle or infinitival forms, but I don't think that would make it any easier.--Brett 00:48, 1 April 2008 (UTC)