Contractions of negated auxiliary verbs in English

Contractions of negated auxiliary verbs in English

The contraction of negated auxiliary verbs in English is most often achieved by suffixing "-n't", an abbreviated form of "not", to the root of a verb with or without changes to the root. In nonstandard or colloquial language, the form "ain't" has particular prominence, while "amn't" is found typically in Ireland and Scotland.


Standard contractions

Contractions of negated auxiliary verbs in Standard English are formed by reducing the negative grammatical particle not to n't, a clitic or suffix which is fused to the root verb form.

The standard contractions for negation of auxiliaries are "isn't", "aren't", "wasn't", "weren't" (all from forms of "be"), "hasn't", "haven't", "hadn't" (from forms of "have"), "won't", "wouldn't" (from forms of "will"), "shan't", "shouldn't" (from forms of "shall"), "can't", "couldn't" (from forms of "can"), "don't", "doesn't" (from forms of "do"), "mayn't", "mightn't" (from forms of "may"), "mustn't" (from "must"), "needn't" (from "need"), and "oughtn't" (from "ought").

Of the above standard contractions, three involve changes to the form of the auxiliary. In the case of "shall" → "shan't", a single final consonant sound / l /, spelled < ll >, is dropped. In the case of "will" → "won't", again the final consonant / l /, < ll >, is dropped, and additionally the preceding vowel changes both its sound (/ ɪ / → / oːʊ /) and its spelling (< i > → < o >). In the case of "dodon't", only the pronunciation changes (/ uː / → / oːʊ /).

Note that there is no standard contraction for am not. This is known in Linguistics as the "amn't gap".

All conjugated forms of "be" are subject to contraction even when used in a non-auxiliary sense. All conjugated forms of "have" are subject to contraction when used as an auxiliary. In some dialects, "have" as a main verb is also subject to contraction, while in other dialects the negation is realised by the insertion of auxiliary "don't".



Shan't is the contraction of "shall not". It evolved from "shalln't" which eventually evolved into "sha'n't". Later on the apostrophe disappeared, and it is now typically written "shan't". "Shan't" is more common to British English than American English.


Won't is the contraction of "will not". "Will not" used to have a form "woll not". It was traditionally written with two apostrophes "wo'n't" to represent the missing letters "ll". Throughout the years however, the first apostrophe began to disappear and the word evolved into "won't".


Can't is the contraction of "can not" or "cannot". The word was traditionally written with another apostrophe "ca'n't". Eventually the apostrophe began to disappear and the word evolved into "can't".

Colloquial contractions

There are many current and historical contractions of negated auxiliary verbs that are considered colloquial or dialectal. Most are variations on standard contractions, although some function to fill the "amn't" gap.


"Ain't" is a colloquialism and contraction for "am not", "is not", "are not", "has not", and "have not". In some dialects "ain't" is also used as a contraction of "do not", "does not", and "did not". The usage of "ain't" is a perennial subject of controversy in English.[1]

"Ain't" has several antecedents in English, corresponding to the various forms of "to be not" and "to have not".

"An't" (sometimes "a'n't") arose from "am not" (via "amn't") and "are not" almost simultaneously. "An't" first appears in print in the work of English Restoration playwrights. In 1695 "an't" was used as a contraction of "am not", and as early as 1696 "an't" was used to mean "are not". "An't" for "is not" may have developed independently from its use for "am not" and "are not". "Isn't" was sometimes written as "in't" or "en't", which could have changed into "an't". "An't" for "is not" may also have filled a gap as an extension of the already-used conjugations for "to be not".

"An't" with a long "a" sound began to be written as "ain't", which first appears in writing in 1749. By the time "ain't" appeared, "an't" was already being used for "am not", "are not", and "is not". "An't" and "ain't" coexisted as written forms well into the nineteenth century.

"Han't" or "ha'n't", an early contraction for "has not" and "have not", developed from the elision of the "s" of "has not" and the "v" of "have not". "Han't" also appeared in the work of English Restoration playwrights. Much like "an't", "han't" was sometimes pronounced with a long "a", yielding "hain't". With H-dropping, the "h" of "han't" or "hain't" gradually disappeared in most dialects, and became "ain't". "Ain't" as a contraction for "has not"/"have not" appeared in print as early as 1819. As with "an't", "han't" and "ain't" were found together late into the nineteenth century.


In Scots amnae is a contraction of "am not", used in declarative statements. This has been borrowed into Scottish English by many speakers.[2]


"Amn't" is a standard contraction of "am not" in some dialects of mainly Hiberno-English and Scottish English. It is formed in the same manner as other negative contractions: the negative particle "not" reduces to "n't", a clitic or suffix which fuses to the preceding verb form "am".[3][4]

In Hiberno-English the question form ("amn't I?") is frequently used, while the declarative form ("I amn't")[2] is less frequent. The Standard English form "I'm not" is available as an alternative to "I amn't" in both Scottish English and Hiberno-English.

There is no undisputed standard equivalent of "amn't I": "am I not", "aren't I", and "ain't I" may respectively be considered stilted, affected, and substandard.[5]


In Oliver St. John Gogarty's impious poem, The Ballad of Japing Jesus, Jesus says:

If anyone thinks that I amn't divine,
He gets no free drinks when I'm making the wine

In James Joyce's Ulysses, Gogarty's alter ego Buck Mulligan quotes the lines in Chapter One.[6] In Chapter 15, the prostitute Cissy Caffrey says to Leopold Bloom, "Amn't I with you? Amn't I your girl?"[7]


"Aren't" is a standard English contraction of "are not". It also functions as a colloquial contraction of "am not" in interrogative sentences: Aren't I lucky to have you around?

Some twentieth-century writers described the use of "aren't" for "am not" as "illiterate" or awkward; today, however, this usage of "aren't" is "almost universal" among speakers of Standard English.[8]

"Aren't" as a contraction for "am not" developed from one pronunciation of "an't" (which itself developed in part from "amn't" - see etymology of "ain't" for further discussion). In non-rhotic dialects, "aren't" and this pronunciation of "an't" are homonyms. For reasons that are unclear, the spelling "aren't I" began to replace "an't I" in the early part of the twentieth century,[9] although examples of "aren't I" for "am I not" appear in the first half of the nineteenth century, as in "St. Martin's Day", from Holland-tide by Gerald Griffin, published in The Ant (1827): (A)ren't I listening; and isn't it only the breeze that's blowing the sheets and halliards about?


"Bain't" or "baint", apparently a contraction of "be not", is found in a number of works employing eye dialect, including J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas.[10]


"Don't" is a standard English contraction of "do not". However, "don't" also functions colloquially as a contraction of "does not": Emma? She don't live here anymore.


"Hain't", in addition to being an antecedent of "ain’t", is a contraction of "has not" and "have not" in some dialects of English, such as Appalachian English. It is reminiscent of "hae" ("have") in Lowland Scots. In dialects that retain the distinction between "hain't" and "ain't", "hain't" is used for contractions of "to have not" and "ain't" for contractions of "to be not".[11] In other dialects, "hain't" is used either in place of, or interchangeably with "ain't".

"Hain't" is seen for example in Chapter 33 of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: I hain't come back - I hain't been GONE.

"Hain't" is to be distinguished from "haint", a slang term for ghost (i.e., a "haunt"), famously used in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Effect on syntax of questions

Affirmative declarative statements in which the verb includes both an auxiliary and a main verb take the word order subject + auxiliary + main verb, as in He is going. When such a statement is converted to an affirmative question, the order of the subject and the auxiliary is reversed: Is he going? Alternatively, when the affirmative declarative statement is converted to a negative declarative statement, "not" is inserted directly before the main verb, as in He is not going, and this can be contracted to He isn't going. An uncontracted negative question is formed from an affirmative question (Is he going?) by again putting "not" before the main verb: Is he not going? But a contracted negative question is formed from a contracted negative declarative statement (He isn't going) by inverting the order of the subject and the auxiliary including its suffix or clitic n't: Isn't he going?

Thus a negative question with no contraction has the word order auxiliary + subject + not + main verb (Is he not going?), while a negative question with a contraction has the word-and-clitic order auxiliary verb + attached n't + subject + main verb (Isn't he going?).

Further reading

  • "ain't", Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English usage (1995) pp 60-64 online


  1. ^ Ryan Dilley, "Why poor grammar ain't so bad" BBC, September 10, 2001, accessed May 13, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Bresnan, Joan (2002). "The lexicon in optimality theory". In Paolo Merla, Suzanne Stevenson (eds). The Lexical Basis of Sentence Processing: Formal, Computational and Experimental Issues. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 39–58. ISBN 1-58811-156-3. 
  3. ^ Zwicky, Arnold M.; Geoffrey K. Pullum (1983). "Cliticization vs. inflection: the case of English n't". Language 59: 502–513. doi:10.2307/413900. 
  4. ^ Rissanen, Matti (1999). "Isn't it? or is it not? On the order of postverbal subject and negative particle in the history of English". In Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Gunnel Tottie, Wim van der Wurff (eds). Negation in the History of English. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 189–206. ISBN 3110161982. 
  5. ^ E. Ward Gilman, ed (1994). "ain't". Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (2nd, revised ed.). Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster. pp. 60–62. ISBN 0877791325.,M1. 
  6. ^ Joyce, James. "Chapter 1". Ulysses. 
  7. ^ Joyce, James. "Chapter 15". Ulysses. 
  8. ^ Jørgensen, Erik (1979). "'Aren't I?' And alternative patterns in modern English". English Studies 60: 35–41. 
  9. ^ "aren't I", Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English usage (1995)
  10. ^ J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas, ch. 53.
  11. ^ Malmstrom, Jean (1960). "Ain't Again". The English Journal 49: 204–205. 

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