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Contraction of not.
- Negates the meaning of the clause in which it occurs.
- The suffix -n’t can only be added to auxiliary verbs, including dare and need in certain uses, as well as main verbs be (in almost all uses) and have (in some uses). Indeed, in some dialects, not even all auxiliary verbs accept -n’t; for example, mayn’t is present in some dialects and absent in others.
- Some verbs change their form when -n’t is added; for example, shall + -n’t is usually shan’t, and am + -n’t is frequently aren’t or ain’t (though all three of these are dialect-dependent).
- Though verbs with -n’t are usually considered contractions of versions using the adverb not, grammatically they behave a bit differently. For example, when subject and verb are inverted, -n’t remains attached to the verb, whereas not does not:
- Isn’t that difficult?
- Is that not difficult?
- Semantically, -n’t may have either “high attachment” or “low attachment”, depending primarily on the verb. For example, “I can’t leave” means “It is not the case that I can leave” (usually “I am unable to leave”), whereas “I shouldn’t leave” means basically “I should stay” (which is a narrower statement, and therefore a stronger one, than “It is not the case that I should leave”). (“I can stay”, by contrast, is very different from “I can’t leave.”) Similar variation is seen with the adverb not, as well as various other negative constructions.