The Grammarphobia Blog

You know not what you do

Q: “You not know” may sound like pidgin, but is it any less grammatical than “You know not”?

A: The word “not” can be knotty. The reason “you not know” isn’t grammatical is that in a negative statement, “not” generally follows a verb.

“Not” follows the primary verb if you use only one (as in “you know not” … “I was not” … “I wasn’t”).

“Not” follows the auxiliary or helping verb otherwise (“you do not know” … “you don’t know”… “you didn’t know” … “I haven’t been”).

A construction like “you know not” sounds a bit lofty or Elizabethan now, since the common tendency these days is to use the auxiliary “do.” Most of us would say, “You do not know” or “You don’t know.”

Similarly, unless we’re being poetic or highfalutin, we say things like “Don’t speak” and “Don’t go” instead of “Speak not” and “Go not.”

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