The Grammarphobia Blog

The road less traveled

Q: I’m puzzled by phrases like these: “the door not open,” “the boy not young,” and “the days not hot.” Is this an archaic way of writing? Or is it just incorrect? Your knowledge is greatly appreciated.

A: The words “open,” “young,” and “hot” in the examples you give are adjectives. These particular adjectives generally appear before the nouns they modify: “the open door,” “the young boy,” and “the hot days.”

But in archaic or poetic language, we sometimes see negative adjectival forms (like “not open,” “not young,” “not hot”) following the nouns they modify.

Today writers don’t use such negative constructions as much as they once did, but we still occasionally see them.

A few examples are “a man not generous with his money,” “a patient not sensitive to pain,” “a fabric not impervious to water,” and “a woman no longer young.”

A similar pattern is routinely seen with “not” (or some other term of negation) plus a past participle. This isn’t archaic at all (though perhaps a bit poetic).

Here are a few examples: “the money not paid,” “the letter not written,” “a course uncharted,” and the M. Scott Peck bestseller The Road Less Traveled.

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