A friend of mine corrected the sentence 'I will try to don't ask anymore', but he does not know why this is not the proper way to express the meaning of the sentence, unfortunately.

Does anybody know why should I write "I will try not to ask anymore" instead of "I will try to don't ask anymore" ?

  • 2
    The only reason this is not the proper way to express this meaning is because, as of the time of this writing, native speakers do not use this way to express this meaning. There is no other reason, and they in turn have no reason themselves other than because that's what they hear from other native speakers. I suggest you do likewise. Repeat after other native speakers. There is no why, and there is no because, and even if there were a because, it wouldn't help you one bit. Things are this way because they have to be some way, and this way happens to be the way right now.
    – ЯegDwight
    Nov 23, 2016 at 15:31
  • Thank you for your comment, @RegDwigнt. I understand that some questions could sound silly, but I find it easier to memorize rules when I know the reasons behind them. Sometimes, as you had pointed out, the only reason is regional or universal adoption within the language speakers. Nov 23, 2016 at 15:43
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    The reason you can't use *to don't ask (and that you have to use to not ask or not to ask instead) is that try, the main verb in the main clause, requires an infinitive complement. That's what the to complementizer is marking. In the affirmative, it's just try to ask, no problems. But in the negative there are choices; infinitives don't have any tense; but don't is present tense, so it can't be used with an infinitive. Instead, just use not, which isn't contracted with a verb and so has no tense. _Not_can go either right before the verb, or right before the whole infinitive. Nov 23, 2016 at 16:06
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    The proposed sentence would make sense if you added a comma: "I will try, don't ask anymore", but it means something else entirely ("I will try, please stop asking!") and is still quite clumsy, and needs context to be understood fully.
    – MorganFR
    Nov 24, 2016 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


When want to negate a finite clause—a finite clause is a clause in which the main verb has tense—the negative adverb not must appear either after the auxiliary verb, or actually cliticised onto the auxiliary. Some constructions in English, such as the present simple or past simple do not use an auxiliary verb in canonical delcarative sentences:

  • Elephants eat donuts.
  • The elephants ate the donuts.

Notice that both of these clauses are tensed. Now, if we want to negate these clauses we will need to insert the dummy auxiliary DO, because the word not must come after the auxiliary verb:

  • Elephants do not eat donuts
  • *Elephants not eat donuts (ungrammatical, no auxiliary)
  • The elephants did not eat the donuts.
  • *The elephants ate not the donuts (non-standard in modern English)

However, none of this applies to the clause (not) to ask any more in the Original Poster's example. Why not? Well, the answer is that this clause is not a finite clause. It does not have any tense. The verb try is followed by an infinitival construction using the word to followed by the plain form of the verb. The plain form is not tensed. It is neither present nor past tense:

  • *She will try to eats all her food.

We can see from the example above that if we use a present tense form of the verb after to, the sentence is ungrammatical.

This clause after the word to is a non-finite clause precisely because it is not tensed. When we negate a non-finite clause in English, we do not need any auxiliary verb. When we are negating a to-infinitival construction, we just put the word not directly behind the word to

  • He tried [not to show his surprise].

Here we see the word not appearing before the word to.

We may alternatively put the word not directly before the plain form of the verb:

  • He tried [to not show his surprise].

This is less common, but equally grammatical.

Notice that the auxiliary verb DO is always tensed in English. It is barred, therefore, from appearing in non-finite constructions:

  • *He tried to didn't show his surprise. (ungrammatical - tensed verb in to-infinitival construction)
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    Note that Zwicky and Pullum have argued that -n't is an inflexional suffix, not a clitic (by their definition of clitic)
    – sumelic
    Nov 23, 2016 at 17:14
  • @sumalic +1 Yes, there are good reasons for saying that, for sure. (It's a distinction that I'm not going to worry about too much here though!) Nov 23, 2016 at 17:15
  • Thanks you for such a thorough answer. Please let me know if I understand right the tense. When a verb has tense, it clearly indicates whether the action is in the past, present or future; and also the length of the action. For example: "it has been quite a good weather this fall". Right? Nov 23, 2016 at 17:33
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    @FranksT.Maia Well, in English Language teaching we sometimes use the word "tense" a bit differently from in linguistics. In this post thee word "tense" is being used in the linguistic way. It means that the first verb in that clause has a diffeent form, which usually indicates a different time.In English we only have two tenses like this: the past and the present. But we have lots of different constructions for talking about the past and the presnt and the future. So "It has been quite ... fall" is present tense, (the verb have is in the present tense), but it is a present perfect.. Nov 23, 2016 at 19:24

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