I'm asking on behalf of a friend who's learning English.

Consider the following sentences:

A: "Isn't anyone coming to class?" and B: "Is not anyone coming to class"

A sounds correct and natural to me but B sounds very unnatural, perhaps even invalid. Do others agree?

If this is the case why is it so? "Isn't" is merely the contracted form of "Is not" after all.

Similarly, "Won't anyone come to class?" sounds correct but "Will not anyone come to class?" sounds wrong.

Thank you.

  • We usually use no-one rather than not anyone in such contexts. Note that the normal "expanded" version of, say, Aren't you Dr Livingstone? is actually Are you not Dr Livingstone? - the "marked" version (Are not you Dr Livingstone?) would be very unlikely except in contexts where you carried heavy stress. That expanded sequence links negating not closer to you, making it more suitable for expressing surprise that in fact it's you (rather than someone else) who is Dr Livingstone (or surprise that the identification is incorrect, perhaps). Sep 26, 2017 at 17:02
  • Related: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/143169/…
    – rjpond
    Sep 26, 2017 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


You're right that the "Is not" and "Will not" forms are unnatural - I suspect they are even ungrammatical in current English.

Normally, in current English, unless you're using contractions, the auxiliary (or "be" or sometimes "have") inverts with the subject, and a "not" comes after:

Do you not see?

Is he not coming?

Will they not expect you?

These forms are somewhat formal, but not unusual. In ordinary speech "Don't you see?", "Isn't he coming?" and "Won't they expect you?" are more natural.

But the forms with "not" staying with the auxiliary and going before the subject are very unusual now, though they were more common a couple of centuries ago:

? Will not he ask?

I don't recommend using this form ever.

The difficulty when you use an indefinite such as "anybody" is that the form with "not" after it is ambiguous:

Will anybody not come?

usually means "Is there anybody who will not come?" and not "Will nobody come?"

So normally, if you want to expand contractions such as "won't" with an indefinite (involving "any"), the normal choice is to use the negative indefinite ("nobody" and the like):

Is nobody coming to class?

  • It's a bit "high-falutin", but I don't think Is not ELU the best language Q&A site on the Internet? is exactly "ungrammatical". And even in "natural" speech, it wouldn't be ridiculous to say, for example, Look at that! Is it not the most amazing thing you've ever seen? Sep 26, 2017 at 17:10
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Yes, I think "Is not" works more happily before a noun than before a pronoun for some reason. ("Is not it the best language Q&A site on the Internet?" would sound awful. "Is not it good?" would also sound awful.) As for your second example, I don't think anyone was suggesting that "Is it not ..." was ridiculous.
    – rjpond
    Sep 26, 2017 at 17:34

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