Do you ever put stress on the auxiliary verbs in do not, may not, will not, should not, etc. without contracting them?

If we take a look at don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, for example, the n't part clearly can't be stressed, as it doesn't make a syllable. So I guess those contractions come from DO not, CAN not, WILL not, SHOULD not with the stress on the auxiliary verbs, but I have rarely, if ever, heard such pronunciation. Maybe cannot is the only exception.

When you read aloud formal writing, where contractions like don't are avoided, do you always pronounce do not and such with the stress on not, or do you sometimes contract them, like don't, or do you even pronounce them like DO not?

  • 2
    This is an interesting question with an interesting answer, but keep in mind that a contraction could be formed even from examples where contraction forces a change in where the stress falls; that is, there's no reason to expect contraction to preserve stress. After all, don't does not preserve the pronunciation of do, and won't preserves even less of the pronunciation of will (so much less that even the spelling is changed).
    – David K
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 18:13
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    Beside the point, but shouldn't is in fact two syllables: should·n't
    – wjandrea
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 23:28

2 Answers 2


One context in which it is common to speak the auxiliary is in imperative sentences. This makes the instruction sound more serious and more important

Do not hurt your brother.

This could be spoken with word stress on "do" and the same stress on "not", but if you wanted to add even more emphasis you would stress the word "not". That is because the contrast is with the positive.

It is unlikely to use emphatic stress on the auxiliary. Emphatic stress is used for contrast. If you are using a negation, it is likely that the contrast is with the positive, so you are more likely to emphasise "not". You would have to invent some situation in which the auxiliary is contrasted:

I'm not saying that you should not go out. I'm telling you that you may not go out. You do not have an option.

So in this example, I've contrasted "should" with "may". But for the emphatic sentence, I'm contrasting the negative against the positive. It is rather rare, since if you are not putting contrastive emphasis on "not" then you'd normally contract and emphasise the contracted form. It works here because the contracted form "mayn't" is not common.

Reading aloud is rarely done outside the classroom. There's no special rule for contractions. Whether to read "do not" as "don't" would depend on the situation and the speaker's choice. It wouldn't be something that the speaker would give much thought to.

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    Yoda: "Do or do not, there is no try" has stress on both "do"s.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 14:54
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    Yoda isn't a model of unremarkable English. But anyway, this is because Yoda is contrasting "do" with "try" and not constasting "do" with "do not"
    – James K
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 19:50

It's pretty idiomatic to hear people say things like "We DO not and WILL not accept this".

Here's an example from Theresa May, "We CAN not and MUST not pretend that things can continue as they are".

Perhaps this is not a true example because the emphasis comes from the juxtaposition of the two different auxiliaries.

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