Rare and awkward contractions: oughtn't

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JLanguage, Jun 10, 2005.

  1. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    "'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?

  2. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    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."
  3. la grive solitaire

    la grive solitaire Senior Member

    United States, English
    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).
  4. suzzzenn Senior Member

    New York
    USA English
  5. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    You could, but you don't want to.

    Click here in order to hear someone use it. ;)
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    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".
  7. JohninVirginia Senior Member

    USA/ English
    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 !":)
  8. DesertCat Senior Member

    inglese | English
    I thought "aught" was the spelling used to mean nothing or zero.
  9. la grive solitaire

    la grive solitaire Senior Member

    United States, English
  10. mjscott Senior Member

    Pacific Northwest, USA
    American English
    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!
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Well, wrong in that ought and aught are also used.
    Sincere apologies to la grive solitaire and DesertCat.
  12. Ridvan New Member

    Zimbabwe, English
    One of those classic English words that borders on archaic ...
  13. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    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.

  14. danzomicrobo Member

    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.
  15. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    You right: I've herad "oughta" frequently. Is it only a southern thing? I don't know. :)

  16. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    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?
  17. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    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".
  18. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Is it CaEn thing or personal thing?
  19. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    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.
  20. jabogitlu Senior Member

    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.
  21. Vikorr Senior Member

    Australia, English
    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'.
  22. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Can we ask any of you to write up as many as possible those set phrases where "ought" "ought to" or "oughtn't" typically appear?
  23. jabogitlu Senior Member

    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."
  24. mplsray Senior Member

    Curiously, The Century Dictionary of 1895 has only the spelling ought for the "zero" sense of the word, quoting it used in Martin Chuzzlewit by Dickens. Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, on the other hand, identifies ought, as an "archaic variant of AUGHT."
  25. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    English (UK)
    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.
  26. gemzill

    gemzill New Member

    Hong Kong
    Come From: Britain/Hong Kong, Speak: English
    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.
  27. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The posts about aught and naught have been moved to a special thread of their own:
    Aught and naught
  28. ziu Senior Member

    English UK
    "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.
  29. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    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!
  30. mplsray Senior Member

    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.
  31. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    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"...

  32. curiosone

    curiosone Senior Member

    Romagna, Italy
    AE - hillbilly ;)
    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.
  33. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    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.
  34. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    And written by Raymond Chandler (brought up in the UK and Ireland) and Billy Wilder (who only moved to the US from Europe in 1933).
  35. Glenfarclas Senior Member

    English (American)
    "Oughtn't" clearly comes to my mind from the "Inquisition" scene in Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I:

    Chorus: "Auto-da-fé? What's an auto-da-fé?"
    Torquemada: "It's what you oughtn't to do, but you do anyway."​
  36. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
  37. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    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" :)
  38. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    Rare makes it sound odd or even wrong. But there are some other contractions that similarly are rarely hear (at least by me):

    Must've (and must'nt've) there are a few more with two apostrophes and missing vowels in two places.

    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.
  39. Sparky Malarky

    Sparky Malarky Moderator

    English - US
    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.
  40. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    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".
  41. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    WIKI shows it like that, and several dictionaries too.
  42. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    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.
  43. curiosone

    curiosone Senior Member

    Romagna, Italy
    AE - hillbilly ;)
    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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