Rare and awkward contractions: oughtn't

JLanguage

Senior Member
American English
"'As you haven't asked my opinion, perhaps I oughtn't give it,'"... (Lost Horizon, P43)

I can't even pronounce it. Have any of you guys ever used it or heard someone use it?

Thanks,
-Jonathan.
 
  • Not in person - only in writing. I think "ought" is used less frequently in AE than in BE (and the negative seems to be quite rare). It has been almost entirely replaced by "should."
     
    I do think it's less common now. I've heard it most often in fixed expressions (You ought to be ashamed, He ought not do that, We ought to go), primarily in the South (U.S.) or as a noun meaning zero (The score is ought for ought = 0 to 0).
     
    la grive solitaire said:
    I do think it's less common now. I've heard it most often in fixed expressions (You ought to be ashamed, He ought not do that, We ought to go), primarily in the South (U.S.) or as a noun meaning zero (The score is ought for ought = 0 to 0).
    Well! I am amazed!! Ought is in routine, regular, daily use in my world BUT NEVER AS A NOUN MEANING ZERO (shouting is deliberate).
    For the noun meaning zero, the word is nought. Pronunciation - argghh why can't I do phonetics - but speaking normally, put an "n" in front of however you pronounce "ought".
    Colloquially, here, "nout" ("n" in front of however you pronounce "out") means nothing.
    A score of 0-0 is "nil-all".
     
    panjandrum said:
    Well! I am amazed!! Ought is in routine, regular, daily use in my world BUT NEVER AS A NOUN MEANING ZERO (shouting is deliberate).
    For the noun meaning zero, the word is nought. Pronunciation - argghh why can't I do phonetics - but speaking normally, put an "n" in front of however you pronounce "ought".
    Colloquially, here, "nout" ("n" in front of however you pronounce "out") means nothing.
    A score of 0-0 is "nil-all".

    I remember seeing an old quote from a British soccer coach at Someplace, who said, "For the longest time after I arrived here, I thought the team's name was "Someplace Nil !":)
     
    The first time I heard aught/ought used to mean ZERO was in ARGENTINA!

    Aught was taught
    And used a lot
    For what Irish still
    Refer to as nil.

    It’s what’s in your wallet
    After pickpockets filch—
    Known in AE as zero, zip,
    Zilly-zally, zilch!
     
    JLanguage said:
    "'As you haven't asked my opinion, perhaps I oughtn't give it,'"... (Lost Horizon, P43)

    I can't even pronounce it. Have any of you guys ever used it or heard someone use it?

    Thanks,
    -Jonathan.
    I would never use this word, but I think it's because I'm American. I would have no trouble pronouncing it though. I've heard it, and I think I've heard it quite a bit, probably listening to book recordings of books from the UK.

    And I would say:

    "I ought to do it."

    I think that oughtn't is not particularly rare in BE, although it MAY be a bit formal. If you Google it, you will find many hits.

    Gaer
     
    In the South (US), the word ought is used. Although I have only seen it in writing once and it seemed so strange that I wanted to change the word. It is more commonly spoken, and where I come from, it would be phrased as oughta or awwda (ought to).

    I have never heard oughtn't spoken or used in writing in AE.
     
    danzomicrobo said:
    In the South (US), the word ought is used. Although I have only seen it in writing once and it seemed so strange that I wanted to change the word. It is more commonly spoken, and where I come from, it would be phrased as oughta or awwda (ought to).

    I have never heard oughtn't spoken or used in writing in AE.
    You right: I've herad "oughta" frequently. Is it only a southern thing? I don't know. :)

    Gaer
     
    To Panjandrum: Is "oughtn't" in routine, regular, daily use, too?
    To everyone: Is it only southern thing in AmEn?
    To Aussies: What about it in AuEn?
     
    I use it! I use it!

    But then, I take delight in my abnormality. My whole family talks like books. It's no harder to say than any other word. It's pronounced "awtunt".
     
    More a personal thing :) Well... actually more of a subculture thing. "Geeks, nerds, and band kids" often take pleasure in using slightly antiquated/bookish English.
     
    OP: You're from Georgia and you don't use OUGHTN'T??? What is the Southern World coming to!

    I say 'You oughta do that' or 'We ought not do that' (or 'We oughtn'ta do that' sometimes). I'm from TN, btw.
     
    In Australia :

    Aught is like...I know of the word, but I think I might have heard it just once or twice when I was a child (about 30 years or so ago)...maybe I read it in a book somewhere, or so it on some pirate movie (seeing as that's what it reminds me of for some reason)

    Ought (which has the same pronunciation as 'aught') is more 'common', in that it's understood, and used in a few set phrases, but it's still an uncommon enough word.

    Oughtn't probably falls into the same category as 'Aught'.
     
    Hmm, well, there are few set phrases; indeed, I can think of none. But, I can provide examples for each. I'm sure others will, too. :D

    We ought to visit our grandparents. (We should.)
    You oughtn't speak like that! (You shouldn't)
    -- This one can also be said "You ought not speak like that," though this usage is probably more colloquial/regional/rural.

    By the way, "ought" isn't really used without "to" after it. The verb itself could even be considered "to ought to."
     
    Hey - can we separate aught from ought here please?

    Aught is the opposite of naught: both are relatively archaic in BE. Aught means something, naught means nothing. Don't use them, non-natives - they're out of date.

    Back to our muttons. The original post asks 'Have any of you guys ever used or heard someone use oughtn't'? In this part of BE, oughtn't is absolutely standard and heard all the time.

    'She oughtn't to do that.' 'Oughtn't you to be at the dentist?' etc.
     
    I use ought and oughtn't, they're common words for me, mostly everyone I know uses ought and oughtn't...but some people do, some don't. It doesn't matter - ought to/should.
     
    Back to our muttons. The original post asks 'Have any of you guys ever used or heard someone use oughtn't'? In this part of BE, oughtn't is absolutely standard and heard all the time.

    'She oughtn't to do that.' 'Oughtn't you to be at the dentist?' etc.
    "Oughtn't" is used where I live too, but your sentences sound strange to me because of the "to".
    I would say "She oughtn't do that" and "Oughtn't you be at the dentist?".
    Don't know if it's correct or not, but there you go.
     
    Good question, winklepicker! In AE, you'll hear "ought" all the time, but I don't think I've ever heard "oughtn't." Even at the end of a sentence like "She ought to be home by now" the tag will not be "oughtn't she?" but "shouldn't she"! Sometimes I think we Yanks have lost some of the best bits of BE!
     
    Good question, winklepicker! In AE, you'll hear "ought" all the time, but I don't think I've ever heard "oughtn't." Even at the end of a sentence like "She ought to be home by now" the tag will not be "oughtn't she?" but "shouldn't she"! Sometimes I think we Yanks have lost some of the best bits of BE!

    It sounds like something one would find in some dialects of American English, particularly Appalachian English. I did some searching via Google and came up with the fact that oughtn't is used a couple of times in Travelin' Man, sung by Dolly Parton (some of the Web pages spelled it oughtnt).

    A bit more convincing, however, is its use in a tale related by Jim Comstock, editor of The West Virginia Hillbilly, in a conversation which can be seen here.
     
    "'As you haven't asked my opinion, perhaps I oughtn't give it,'"... (Lost Horizon, P43)

    I can't even pronounce it. Have any of you guys ever used it or heard someone use it?

    Thanks,
    -Jonathan.
    Definitely! I had at least one school teacher use it, but it should, as they used it, have 'to' there - "you oughtn't to chew gum in assembly"...


    Vicky
     
    I have what linguists call a "mixed dialect" as I'm a Kentuckian, but my mother was from New England. But I've heard "ought" used both by my mother's family, and in the South - however always in the positive (never "oughtn't which sounds formal and archaic to me - tho' "ought not" would work). "Oughta" is perhaps used more in the South; however I put it in the same category as "gotta" and "gonna" which are widely used.
     
    Definitely heard "oughtn't" from an American character in the US film "Double Indemnity", which was made in 1944 and set in Los Angeles. I still use this particular contraction, but then I speak BrE.
     
    American English, midwestern/northeastern/southeastern at various times, "ought" is common, "oughtn't" is rare but not weird sounding. "Oughtn't" sounds like adding -unt or -int (any schwa-type unstressed vowel sound could be used) to the normal pronunciation of "ought" with the first syllable stressed. The final "t" turns to a "d" sound in most sentences because it's always "ought to" or "oughtn't to" and the "to" is usually pronounced like "duh" in those sentences. So it's like "Awduh" or "Awtunduh" really. Or it can be "ought have" or "oughtn't have" and then it's said more like "Awduv" and "Awduntuv" :)
     
    Rare makes it sound odd or even wrong. But there are some other contractions that similarly are rarely hear (at least by me):

    Mightn't
    Must've (and must'nt've) there are a few more with two apostrophes and missing vowels in two places.
    Would've

    And while we are on the original subject: oughtn’t've

    And sometimes the contraction does not resemble the original words: Shan't = shall not.
     
    Oughtn't sounds perfectly natural to me. Now ... I'm going to go nuts trying to think of when I heard it. If ever.

    I *think* it was in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. In a scene where they're sorting books donated to the prison library, and they find The Count of Monte Cristo. Andy comments that it's about a prison break. Red says "That ought to be filed under 'skills and hobbies too' oughtn't it?"

    However, I may be misremembering.
     
    And sometimes the contraction does not resemble the original words: Shan't = shall not.
    But it oughtn't to be written like that, and if you read novels written in early 20th, 19th and earlier centuries, you'll find that it was written "sha'n't".
     
    But it oughtn't to be written like that, and if you read novels written in early 20th, 19th and earlier centuries, you'll find that it was written "sha'n't".

    WIKI shows it like that, and several dictionaries too.
     
    I didn't say it isn't written "shan't", I said it oughn't to be and it usedn't to be. But that was in the past.
     
    I didn't say it isn't written "shan't", I said it oughn't to be and it usedn't to be. But that was in the past.

    Three cheers! :D I oughn't like that, or perhaps oughtn't've/shouldn't've. However I'd be careful about using "shan't" or "sha'n't". If you remove the 'n' (either version) it comes out 'shat', and that's the past tense of another verb... :cool: ...and it could otherwise be confused with 'shanti'.
     
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