Is "Did you not tell me..." proper English, as opposed to "Didn't you tell me?"

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    Yes, it's "proper English". Is there anything you don't understand about why using the contracted form effectively results in the negating not being moved to before the pronoun "you" in this example? Other than that, this looks like General Reference, even for ELL. – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 13:59
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    Did you not... is not the casual form. It can imply that the speaker is miffed. When it is used, it is often used not with the tone of a question but with the tone of a rebuke. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 23 '14 at 14:12
  • @TRomano is correct. Quite a sharp rebuke too. – A E Oct 23 '14 at 21:48

Did you not tell me/Didn't you tell me?

Grammatically, both of the sentences are correct.

The first negative question, which is uncontracted type, is usually used in formal English. On the other hand, the second negative question, which is contracted type, is very much common in both spoken and written English.

They are almost similar in meaning,


In both questions you are placing the auxiliary verb did (which puts the sentence in the past tense) BEFORE the actual subject/noun,

  • Did you not = Ok.
  • Didn't you = The contraction between Did + Not still doesn't change the Verb-before-Subject/Noun rule, so it should be acceptable, although the previous sentence is definitely more

Perhaps "Didn't you?" would be more appropriate in Tag Questions, e.g., "You did tell me to do that, didn't you?" or "You haven't done it, have you?".


Consider the following:

Did you not tell me to eat the apple?
Didn't you tell me to eat the apple?
Did not you tell me to eat the apple?

The first two sentences are proper and equivalent. The third form is not a currently used colloquial interrogative form. As a declarative sentence:

I did not tell you to eat the apple.

The phrase "did not" can be used and is colloquial.

  • 1
    Noting that 'Did not you tell me to eat the apple?' Has been used historically, but has dropped out of common usage as the more informal 'Didn't' has become prevalent. – Jon Story Oct 23 '14 at 14:47
  • @JonStory Good point That is why I said "not used" rather than "incorrect" – Gary's Student Oct 23 '14 at 14:51
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    @Jon: Was "did not you tell me?" historically used in speech, or was it just an expanded written version of the spoken "didn't you tell me?" I haven't been able to find any evidence either way. – Peter Shor Oct 23 '14 at 16:42
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    "Did not you tell me to eat the apple?" <== That would most likely be considered to be ungrammatical in today's standard English. In general, the word "not" does not come between a subject and the auxiliary verb (as it does in your example). There are exceptions, such as those involving a heavy subject or an inverted conditional, but they are relatively rare. – F.E. Oct 23 '14 at 18:26
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    @Jon: I'm not convinced. Jane Austen used "did not you" multiple times, but her works do not seem to contain a single instance of "didn't". One 19th century transcription from the House of Commons contains "did not you" 34 times, and "didn't" once. My theory is that "did not you" was never commonly used in speech, but that during the 19th century, "didn't you" was often transcribed "did not you". – Peter Shor Oct 23 '14 at 20:37

'Did you not tell me?' is rather formal, but I would not say that that makes it 'proper' English. 'Didn't you tell me?' is fine in everyday speech and less formal writing.

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    I can't possibly endorse an answer claiming the uncontracted form isn't "proper". If anything, it's actually more "proper". – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 14:02
  • Different uses of the word "proper" :-) Proper ain't always proper. I upvoted that downvote, because tunny just needs to make his meaning a little clearer. He means "appropriate". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 23 '14 at 14:07
  • I did not say the uncontracted form wasn't proper. I said that the lack of contraction did not make it 'proper English'. It doesn't Both the contracted and uncontracted forms are proper (=correct, up to standard). – tunny Oct 23 '14 at 14:18
  • Both are proper English, but the contracted version is the only version in common usage. – Jon Story Oct 23 '14 at 14:48

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