By accident, I found this sentence, which is from JFK's inaugural address. As a non-native speaker, I feel this sentence quite uncomfortable.

I personally would say "Don't ask ....". Is "ask not something" grammatically correct? Is it old fashioned English?

  • Speeches often use phrasing that we would not use in every day speech. The speaker may choose archaic or unusual phrasing so that the folks listening remember that point very well. When we hear something surprising, like "Ask not" instead of "Don't ask", it makes us pay more attention. It also allows the speaker to emphasize his words differently to build a rhythm. It may be worthwhile to listen to the audio of that speech to hear how he speaks that line. It would be a lot different if he said "Do not ask" or "Don't ask".
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


I think as most of the sayings go back to the olden days, old English, other languages, or different dilects, some of them seem to be incorrect grammatically.

The subject saying isn't common in use, it was used especially by some famous politicians, John F. Kennedy being one of them.

I think the OP is right that we should use don't ask instead of "ask not" to make the saying modern in English, but if you change the words of the saying, it'll spoil its beauty.

  • 4
    "Ask not" is grammatical, but very old fashioned. It shows up a lot in translations of the Bible; the phrase 'Fear not' is particularly common.
    – ssav
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 9:17

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