The position of "not" in early modern English.

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by starrgo_rin, Jun 10, 2013.

  1. starrgo_rin Member

    English - British
    What are the specific rules for negation without auxiliary verbs? I am specifically interested in the 17th and 18th century writing styles.
    I know that the grammar was much closer to German back then, but I am not sure if the rules for "not" in English were the same as those for "nicht" in German.
    Which ones would be proper:
    "I left not the house" or "I left the house not"?
    "It diminishes not the quality of the product" or "It diminishes the quality of the product not"?
    "This work explains not the essence of the matter" or "This work explains the essence of the matter not"?
    "I spoke not to him yesterday" or "I spoke to him yesterday not"?
    Intuitively, it seems that in the first example the first one is correct, but in the second example (as well as in the third and the fourth ones) the last one (for we negate not the quality, implying that something else diminishes, but the entire verb, which is diminishing).
  2. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    My intuition:
    - I left the house not.
    - It diminishes not the quality of the product. (unmarked)
    - It diminishes the quality of the product not. (marked, i.e. particular stress on not)
    - This work explains not the essence of the matter. (unmarked)
    - This work explains the essence of the matter not. (marked, i.e. particular stress on not)
    - Yesterday, I spoke not to him.
    - (Yesterday, I spoke to him not. (I am unsure about this one but vaguely recollect having read something similar; possibly a marked variant of the former))

    This is of course my intuition as a German native speaker but I cannot recall ever having come across a case in Early Modern English texts where the placement of not without auxiliary verb didn't match my intuition.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2013
  3. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    So could we summarize the rule as "not" going normally right after the verb in Old English but moved to the end when emphasized?

    In the saying... She loves me, she loves me not... would that mean the accent is on the negative or is it put at the end just because "not me" would suppose she loves someone else?

    It would be interesting to know why this rather easy and supple form of negation fell out of use and was replaced by something more complicated and less precise (Do (marked by tense) + not + infinitive).
  4. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    I am no expert on Early Modern English, but I tentatively suggest that the general rule is that "not" comes immediately after the verb except where the object is a pronoun when it comes immediately after the pronoun.
  5. starrgo_rin Member

    English - British
    Aha, thank you for the thoughts!
    I have been looking at some texts, and indeed it seems the "not" always comes right after the verb, apart from the cases with pronouns.
    "She loves not me" would sound strange, as if implying an addition like ",... but him".
    However if it is a name, would then "She loves John not" be correct or "She loves not John"?
  6. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    If you go here: and do a search-this-page (ctrl f) with "[space]not[space]" I think you will find it quite interesting. In most cases "not" follows the verb. There are some instances of the "do not" construction and also of "not" preceding object pronouns.

    Whilst I have probably read quite a bit of Early Modern English I have never really done so paying much attention to the differences in grammar compared to Modern English. This is probably because one does not really have to. Whilst anyone who has not studied it may miss nuances or even misunderstand occasionally, we are all to a greater or less extent familiar with it because of the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare, Milton and other poets, not to mention set phrases such as "she loves me, she loves me not". Bearing that in mind, I, like you, feel that This work explains the essence of the matter not does not seem right.
  7. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    I think "She loves John not" sounds better because "She loves not John" sounds like you mean "She loves not John.... but Hulalessar."
  8. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Here are some examples from All's Well That Ends Well:

    I heard not of it before

    I think not on my father

    I know not what he shall

    So in approof lives not his epitaph

    his plausive words he scatter'd not in ears

    Let me not live

    you lack not folly

    they touched not any stranger sense

    Do not you love him, madam?

    Go not about

    Be not offended

    it hurts not him that he is loved of me

    Let not your hate encounter with my love

    That seeks not to find

    these warlike principles do not throw from you

    spare not me

    I think not so

    I dare not say

    Do not plunge thyself

    I know not yet

    I hope your lordship thinks not him a soldier

    my dial goes not true

    Trust him not in matter of heavy consequence

    do you not know him?
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes, I agree. The object phrase(s) need a minimum complexity to allow for not to move in front of them. A single word object phrase like in this sentence behaves like a pronominal object in this regard. at least some times.
  10. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    These examples fall into another category as they involve negation of an auxiliary or of a modal verb. And the don't pose a problem as modern rules are based upon this paradigm.

    The only example I have a problem with is spare not me. I really asks for the follow-up question whom else? I don't quite understand the meaning in the given context (Countess: You were lately whipped, sir, as I think. Clown: O Lord, sir! spare not me.). In Richard II, John of Gaunt says: O, spare me not, my brother Edward's son,
    For that I was his father Edward's son
    . I would take this to be the unmarked sequence.

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