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My students told me that they are supposed to write

"Do they not ever learn"

instead of

"Don't they ever learn".

I suspect that all of them misunderstood something in the grammar class. Or am I mistaken? Can anyone help out?

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    "Don't they" is just the contraction of "Do they not", so they both work. It's the same difference as "Isn't it" and "Is it not", like in "It is your dog, isn't it (or is it not)?" – MorganFR May 10 '16 at 10:38
  • They're both grammatically correct, though the latter sounds better to me. It would be more common in English to hear the phrase "Will they ever learn?", questioning whether they will learn in the future, rather than in the present, the implication being that they have not learned yet. – Michael May 10 '16 at 10:43
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    You would usually write "Do they never learn?" or "Don't they ever learn?", which have the same meaning. You could also say "Will they ever learn?" or "Will they never learn?". All of these (interestingly) have the same meaning, which is a rhetorical question which expresses amazement that they have not learned so far. – Max Williams May 10 '16 at 10:44
  • "Do they not ever learn" would get weird looks from native US English speakers. What Max Williams said. – Hot Licks May 10 '16 at 11:39
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It seems to me like their teacher was teaching them formal or business English, in which case they might have been told never to use contractions. That seems like the only reasonable explanation.

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