Negatives are weird in most languages. Some languages (e.g. French, Arabic) utilise a double negative framing the verb: ne mange pas. Various codes exist to guide the perplexed through the correct usage of the negative. Double negatives ("ain't going nowhere") are frowned upon, though not when committed by an immortal bard:
man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
Some languages manage to make negatives easy. For instance, Hebrew
just prefixes the word with "lo" (= no).
But what of English?
English is easy. None of the regular verbs even has a negative! (AT says: I thought it was correct to say "He eats not", just not common usage). So how do we get along? The auxiliary verbs have negatives:
- I am not eating.
- He has not eaten.
But not every verb part
uses an auxiliary verb.
How can you form a negative, if you can only apply a negative to an auxiliary verb, but the form you're trying to negate doesn't have an auxiliary?
Like everything else in English, the solution is to apply a trivial kluge: hack an auxiliary into the sentence:
(the intermediate form actually means something slightly different from the positive form; that's how horrid this kluge really is!)
- You ate lunch.
- * You did eat lunch.
- You did not eat lunch.
Note what happens: the verb remains in a positive form. A superfluous auxiliary (to do) is inserted, and that is what gets negated (not to do, "to don't"?).
This is clearly broken, and should be fixed. Yet native English speakers seem to do this effortlessly, without even noticing what they're doing!