Consider this last phrase of Jesus, as found on Wikipedia:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

I have a problem with the phrase: "...know not...". I am not a native speaker and find this phrase confusing. To me, it suggests the same idea as this complete phrase: "they know, not what they do, rather they know something else (which they do not do)". I honestly wonder if this is in fact the true interpretation.

I wish to know if this phrase structure is correct English grammar.

Thank you!

  • In case of any clarification, please comment. Thank you! Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 8:59
  • They were grammatical for the time in which that English was written. Also, Jesus did not speak English. Those words are a translation of an ancient text, which was itself a translation.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 9:12
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Oh! I did not know that before... Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


You know not = You don't know.

In normal formal or informal English, you use the phrases do not, does not, and did not in front of a verb like know to form the negative. The structure verb + not is highly formal, especially found in scriptures, poetry,old English, etc. Moreover, this structure makes a stronger statement.

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