I see this quote in a lifehacker article:

“Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?”

I’ve read the grammar rule that says only the negative contradiction can be in front of the subject. So it should be ”why do the mothers of mankind not....”.

  • Where did you read this rule? May 12, 2018 at 11:04
  • @MichaelHarvey I’ve read the rule in several books or articles. Isn’t it a general rule?
    – user67265
    May 12, 2018 at 11:06

2 Answers 2


The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (CGEL) says on page 801 regarding Position of negator in clauses with subject–auxiliary inversion:

1. Generally:

Clauses with subject–auxiliary inversion normally have the subject immediately following the auxiliary verb. The negative marker will thus precede the subject in synthetic [don't, aren't, etc.] negation but follow the subject in analytic [do not, are not, etc.] negation:

  1. UNGRAMMATICALDoes not she agree with me?
  2. OKDoesn't she agree with me?
  3. OKDoes she not agree with me?

In [2] we have synthetic negation and the negative marker precedes the subject (she). [3] is an example of analytic negation where not follows the subject – [1] breaks this rule, and is consequently ungrammatical as CGEL explains (boldface mine):

In general the word not cannot come between the auxiliary and the subject, as shown in [1].

2. But...

The construction with not preceding the subject is not completely excluded, however: it is occasionally found as an alternant of the normal pattern where not follows the subject. Compare:

  1. Do most self-indulgent public officials not accept bribes?
  2. Do not most self-indulgent public officials accept bribes?

Construction [5] is a survival of an older pattern where not was quite generally permitted in this position. In speech it would be highly unnatural except in extremely formal declamation. But in writing it will still be found in sources not permitting synthetically negated auxiliaries. It is normally restricted to cases where the subject is relatively long, where it serves to avoid the lengthy interruption between auxiliary verb and not which makes [4] too sound somewhat stilted.1

1We have noted, however, that synthetic negatives are not permitted in inverted conditionals, and this may facilitate the use of the construction with not preceding the subject: She might have regretted her smallness had not all the parts been so well-proportioned.

Here's a chart clearly showing how that "older pattern" has effectively vanished since its heyday a couple of centuries ago...

enter image description here

  • Is there any way to post the actual text of the article rather than an image of text? Images are not searchable, and can't be scanned by accessibility software.
    – Andrew
    May 12, 2018 at 15:43
  • @Andrew Sure thing, but you could've helped out, too. :/
    – user3395
    May 12, 2018 at 16:44
  • Yeah, whoops. I didn't have time earlier, but that's probably no excuse. Next time :)
    – Andrew
    May 12, 2018 at 20:41

The rule or convention is a modern one and did not exist in the 19th century when the text which you quoted was written, either by Julia Ward Howe or Ann Jarvis, depending on which site you visit.

  • 1
    +1 for pointing out that the original sentence is not contemporary. Knowing when something was written is often the key to understanding why something was written the way that it was. This is something I’ve been saying for years (see Point 4 in this meta question, as an example).
    – J.R.
    May 12, 2018 at 11:51

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