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Is it grammatically correct to say

Don't your father have a mother?

I would prefer

Doesn't your father not have a mother?

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    Grammar would allow these: (1) Does your father have a mother? (2) Doesn't your father have a mother? (3) Does your father not have a mother? But what does the question mean? Everyone has a mother. Could there be some misunderstanding?
    – Chaim
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:44
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    @Charity -- Do you mean, "Is your father's mother still alive?", which means the same thing as "Is your paternal grandmother still alive?"
    – Jasper
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:55
  • Do is not third person. Does is third person.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:02
  • Your father must literally have a mother or he would not be here. If you're trying to ascertain whether she is alive or not "have" is not the correct word to use at all. I have four grandparents... none of them are alive, though.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:38
  • @Catija You father must only have had a mother. "Having" one is not so consistent in usage.
    – fectin
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 21:28

3 Answers 3

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Neither of these are good options, though your version is at least grammatically correct.

Doesn't your father not have a mother?

This is a phrasing that implies you know the answer already and you're merely asking for confirmation. Another way of phrasing this is:

Your father doesn't have a mother, right?

If you're using have to imply "is alive", you're telling someone rather forcibly: "your father's mother is dead". This is sort of rude, at the very least.

The original version, with don't, is incorrect grammatically. But it is better to some degree because it doesn't have the second negation.

Doesn't your father have a mother?

This is a slightly better option - it means:

Your father has a mother, right?

Or, again, if you're intending for have to mean "is alive", it would mean

Your father's mother is alive, right?

Alternately, the version recommended by Versatile and Affordable is less rude because you're simply asking for information, not assuming you already know the answer:

Does your father not have a mother?

In this case, depending on how it's spoken, it can actually show concern.


All that said, all of these are non-standard. When trying to ascertain if someone's still alive or not, we don't say "have". Everyone has a mother and a father (genetically and literally speaking – I'll not go beyond that). If you want to be reminded if someone's grandparent is still living, please be more exact:

Is your father's mother still alive?
Is your paternal grandmother still living?

Or, if you're reasonably certain she's alive,

Your paternal grandmother is still alive, right?

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You are correct that

Doesn't your father not have a mother?

is correct since "father" is third person singular.

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    The double negative appears wrong. Even if intended (to make a positive), that particular phrasing is going to make native speakers scratch their heads.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 0:30
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    @jpmc26 Very true, but it's doesn't change the outcome to the "Don't/Doesn't" question.
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 5:21
  • It does. See Versatile's answer. "Doesn't" needs to be split up to make the sentence correct.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 5:49
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    I think you're missing the point I'm making. "Doesn't he" vs "*don't they", singular vs plural, the rest of the sentence could be "wash their hair?", "go to the park." or anything else.
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 5:58
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No, it is not correct to say

Don't your father have a mother?

Because the father is 3rd person singular (=he, she, it) which gets only "does", saying that we can not refer to him in auxiliary verb of 1st and 2nd persons ("do").

The correct sentence is:

Does your father not have a mother?

It is because the structure of the negative interrogative sentence is as follow:

Auxiliary verb > Subject > not > Verb > object

In your example:

Auxiliary verb (=Does) > Subject (=your father) > not > Verb (=have) > object (=a mother)

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Take a small tip for such questions: Compare your sentence with: "Does he not have mother" and replace the pronoun (=subject) "he" with "your father" (=subject) and you'll find the answer quickly.

Regarding to the second sentence that you wrote:

Doesn't your father not have a mother?

It does not match the grammar rules of formal English which I studied.

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    You are allowed to disagree with anyone. However, in common use, not can go just about anywhere; sometimes this changes the meaning greatly, sometimes not at all. In this case, not works in either location, with no change in meaning.
    – Davo
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:20
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    We learnt to differentiate between the spoken language to the formal one. For example it's very common to see people say "we will" instead of "we shall" etc. Another example see here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/108285/… and there are lot more:) Moreover, we learnt -by a native English speaker teacher- that in the most of the times, native English speakers don't know English grammar and just speak it naturally. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:43
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    "Doesn't your father not have a mother" and "Does your father not have a mother" are both correct - they don't really mean the same thing, though. Your version is a simple request of information. With "doesn't" you're assuming that you already know the answer.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:50
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    I explain/reframe them in my answer. I think it's generally recommended to add more to tag the statement as a question than merely a question mark as it can be confused to be a typographical error or (in the case of raising the voice in spoken English) it's become a horrid tic that many young speakers do on every sentence... adding ", right" or ", is that correct" or something similar makes it more clear than only having a question mark.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 21:00
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    As a native speaker, I can absolutely assure you that at best, the double negative version in the OP's question is going to sound incredibly uneducated. "Does your father not have a mother?" is a vast improvement. It may not be the smoothest way to ask, but at least it's organized correctly. Normal speech typically matches the formal version here, barring very specific, regarded as uneducated, not widely accepted dialects. +1
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 5:51

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