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?

  • 3
    "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, 2016 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, 2016 at 10:43
  • 8
    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. May 10, 2016 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, 2016 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


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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