''Burn not the house to fight the mouse''

kenny4528

Senior Member
Mandarin, Taiwan
Hi,

I just learned an idiom ''Burn not the house to fight the mouse'', but I don't understand why not is lain behind the verb burn. Doesn't ''Not burn the house to fight the mouse'' sound better? Or it is just the way it is?

Thanks.
 
  • Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Hi,

    I just learned an idiom ''Burn not the house to fight the mouse'', but I don't understand why not is lain behind the verb burn. Doesn't ''Not burn the house to fight the mouse'' sound better? Or it is just the way it is?

    Thanks.
    Hi Kenny. It's in old-fashioned language but at least it's a complete sentence. "Not burn the house to fight the mouse" isn't correct because it's not a complete sentence.

    Remember the fairy tales and old movies?... "Fear not, fair maiden, for I shall rescue you from the fire-breathing dragon!". "Not fear, fair maiden..." is just plain wrong
     

    kenny4528

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Hi Kenny. It's in old-fashioned language but at least it's a complete sentence. "Not burn the house to fight the mouse" isn't correct because it's not a complete sentence.
    Thank you very much,Dimcl. The phrasing just looks kind of...odd to me, but it might be just me.:)

    Edit: Glad to see your extra example.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I've never come across this particular saying and I can't find any reference to it through Google.
    But the structure is familiar, though archaic:
    - burn not = do not burn.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Could you post a link?
    I am sure you have the meaning correct.
    Don't set your house on fire in your efforts to get rid of a mouse.

    You will find other examples of "Burn not the ..." HERE.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    As for the construction itself I believe not was used like that in Old English to form negation -- there didn't use to be didn'ts, don'ts, etc.

    Tom
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    What you see here is the difference between the simple present (which is not often used in the negative today) and the intensive or emphatic present (which uses forms of "do", and is so commonly used in place of the simple present that many people assume it is the simple present.) In the simple present, the negative follows the verb; in the emphatic it is inserted after the auxuiliary, but before the main verb.

    Simple negative present: Ask not what your country can do for you.
    Negative emphatic present: Do not ask what your country can do for you.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    What you see here is the difference between the simple present (which is not often used in the negative today) and the intensive or emphatic present (which uses forms of "do", and is so commonly used in place of the simple present that many people assume it is the simple present.) In the simple present, the negative follows the verb; in the emphatic it is inserted after the auxuiliary, but before the main verb.

    Simple negative present: Ask not what your country can do for you.
    Negative emphatic present: Do not ask what your country can do for you.
    To complicate things, the "simple negative present," as you put it, is nowadays used in cases of special emphasis, as was the case when President Kennedy used it, or when quoting some old text or adage. The ordinary, everyday way of asking such a question is with forms of the auxiliary do.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    What you see here is the difference between the simple present (which is not often used in the negative today) and the intensive or emphatic present (which uses forms of "do", and is so commonly used in place of the simple present that many people assume it is the simple present.) In the simple present, the negative follows the verb; in the emphatic it is inserted after the auxuiliary, but before the main verb.

    Simple negative present: Ask not what your country can do for you.
    Negative emphatic present: Do not ask what your country can do for you.
    Hello GreenWhiteBlue,

    Isn't it the imperative by any chance here?

    Indicative -- simple present:
    I/you/etc. do not/don't ask what your country can do for you.
    I/you/etc. ask not what your country can do for you.
    Imperative:
    Ask not what your country can do for you.
    or
    Do not ask what your country can do for you.
    or its contracted counterpart:
    Don't ask what your country can do for you.


    Tom
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    It does not matter whether it is indicative or imperative: the negative of the true simple present takes the same form in both moods.

    Here is another example that is clearly indicative, and not imperative. This is the opening of Psalm 1, as found in the 1609 "Authorized Version" (or "King James Version") translation of the Bible:
    Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly

    In the emphatic present, this would be "Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly."

    Notice that in both cases, the word "not" follows the verb that is subject to conjugation. In the case of the true simple present, the verb that gets conjugated is the main verb:

    Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
    Blessed are the men that walk not in the counsel of the ungodly

    while with the emphatic present, the verb that gets conjugated (and that precedes the "not") is the auxiliary verb:
    Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly
    Blessed are the men that do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    That is indirectly confirmed if you search in Shakespeare's works. You'll find both
    I think not so and
    I do not think so.
    From GWB's explanation, I infer that the latter was meant to be emphatic.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    It does not matter whether it is indicative or imperative: the negative of the true simple present takes the same form in both moods.

    Here is another example that is clearly indicative, and not imperative. This is the opening of Psalm 1, as found in the 1609 "Authorized Version" (or "King James Version") translation of the Bible:
    Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly

    In the emphatic present, this would be "Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly."

    Notice that in both cases, the word "not" follows the verb that is subject to conjugation. In the case of the true simple present, the verb that gets conjugated is the main verb:

    Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
    Blessed are the men that walk not in the counsel of the ungodly

    while with the emphatic present, the verb that gets conjugated (and that precedes the "not") is the auxiliary verb:
    Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly
    Blessed are the men that do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly.
    Thank you for your reply, GWB.
    I was a bit unsure since the sentence in question is imperative, where pronouns (to the best of my knowledge) are not used when the form is being urged to someone, contrary to the indicative. I get your point now. :thumbsup:

    Tom
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Thank you for your reply, GWB.
    I was a bit unsure since the sentence in question is imperative, where pronouns (to the best of my knowledge) are not used when the form is being urged to someone, contrary to the indicative. I get your point now. :thumbsup:

    Tom
    Well, to complicate things a bit, the pronoun once was used in the imperative, inverted in relation to the verb. For example, in The King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, you find "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." When people imitate archaic usage, they sometimes use this verb inversion with pronoun following: The examples found on the Internet of "Be ye not stupid." and "Be ye not so stupid" are presumably examples of this jocular use.

    I find examples of "Burn ye not" on the Internet, but the examples may all involve an imitation of archaic use (not necessarily jocular, however) rather than having come from actual recorded archaic text.
     

    ImperialKing613

    New Member
    China, Mandarin
    Hi,

    I just learned an idiom ''Burn not the house to fight the mouse'', but I don't understand why not is lain behind the verb burn. Doesn't ''Not burn the house to fight the mouse'' sound better? Or it is just the way it is?

    Thanks.
    kenny4528, putting "not" at the end of a verb simply is the same as putting "don't" at the front of a verb and to me it sounds just slightly better and "Not burn the house" doesn't really make much sense with "to fight a mouse" unless you use "use rattraps or rat poison to fight the mouse not burn the house" but "Burn not the house to fight the mouse" is used to say "don't destroy something very important just to satisfy something not as important". I don't think it's used so often because i've never actually heard of it.
     
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