Can ‘why don’t you’ construction have negative words as in next case? If it can, where do I have to put ‘not’?

Why don’t you not make him angry?

  • 1
    Yes, this is fine conversationally.
    – user230
    Sep 10, 2014 at 0:40

4 Answers 4


"Don't" is, of course, a contraction for "do not", so what you are suggesting is, "Why do you not not make him angry." This is called a "double negative" and is generally frowned on because it is confusing.

Nevertheless, there are times when it is appropriate. In this case, there is an idiom, "Why don't you ...", which is understood to be a request or suggestion that the other person do something. Like, "Why don't you go away?" or "Why don't you apply for that job?" It's not really a question, but is equivalent to saying "I think you should ..." or "Please ..." or a simple command. "Why don't you leave me alone" is a little more polite than just saying "Leave me alone", etc.

So in this case, the double negative is a bit of an illusion. The first "not" is not meant literally. "Why don't you not make him angry" really means something more like "Please stop making him angry" or "You should not make him angry". So in this case, I think the sentence you give is perfectly acceptable.

Double negatives can be appropriate in situations where both the negatives are meant literally, but that's a different subject.

  • +1, I think that one can not literally undo the contraction to get the double negative is another indicator of the idiom. "Why do not you not..." doesn't make sense!
    – JoeG
    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:00
  • @JoeG Yes, sometimes if you simply expanded the contraction, the word order is not correct. One example is questions like this. For example, "Why don't you like apricots?" Unpacking the contraction directly would give "Why do not you like apricots?", which is not correct. What we normally say is "Why do you not like apricots?"
    – Jay
    Aug 9, 2016 at 13:15

Basically speaking, double negatives are not used in normal English sentence construction. It is better to say:

Why do you make him angry?

which should carry the same meaning.

  • 2
    I think in this case, the meaning OP is after is one in which, "why don't you" is used as a suggestion, and the sentence is intended to mean, "You should try not making him angry". This might come in the following exchange: Parent: Don't make him angry. Child: I'm not trying to make him angry Parent: Why don't you try not making him angry (I.e., Instead of not trying you should make an effort to keep him happy.)
    – Jim
    Sep 10, 2014 at 0:43
  • @Jim In context you are correct, though I did not read that into the question, nor does the question really indicate that. You should write your comment as an answer though, and possibly Listenever will accept it as correct if that was the intent.
    – user3169
    Sep 10, 2014 at 3:31

Yes, you can use a negative antecedent with "why don't you." However, your suggestion:

Why don't you not make him angry?

is not the most idiomatic way to do this. This kind of double negative, where both negatives are applied to the same verb, is usually thought of as either highly informal:

He ain't nothing like I expected him to be

or awkward and confusing:

I didn't do it, but I didn't not do it either.

To make the statement clearer, you can rephrase the sentence so that each negative applies to a different verb. For example:

Why don't you try not making him angry?

Here, "don't" negates "try" and "not" negates "make"; separating the negations like this makes the sentence sound clearer, even though the meaning is essentially the same.

*Why don’t you not make him angry?*

double negatives cancel each other out so a more appropriate way to word this would be

*why do you make him angry?* or
*why would you make him angry?*

and the proper negation would be

*why don't you make him angry?* or
*why wouldn't you make him angry?*

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