NOT, NO, DON’T in English


One of our students asked about the difference between NOT, NO and DON’T in English and I thought this would be a good topic to explain in order to avoid confusing these three negative words in practice.



We use NOT every time we want to form a negative sentence by changing the verb:

  1. We are not busy today. (verb: are)
  2. Can you not accept this? (verb: can)
  3. My sisters do not have a good reason to be upset. (verb: have)
  4. Do not run! (verb: run)

As you can see in the examples above, the particle NOT is usually placed right after the verb (or auxiliary verb “do”) unless we have a question, in which case NOT is placed immediately after the Subject (example 2. subject: you).

NOT is also used to replace a whole negative sentence in order to avoid repetition:

Do you want this or not? (Do you want this or don’t you want this?)

Why not? (Why aren’t they green?)



NO is used to answer a question negatively:

Is your apartment small?

No, my apartment is not small.

It is also used to mean “zero” next to a noun:

I have no patience for this. (I have zero patience for this)



DON’T is a combination between the auxiliary verb DO and the negative particle NOT. We use it every time we need to make a sentence negative except when the verb is “to be” or “can”:

  1. His parents don’t let him go out at night.
  2. Don’t you know where the pharmacy is?
  3. Don’t go!

DON’T is placed in front of the verb unless we have a question (example 2.), in which case it is placed in front of the Subject.

DON’T is an abbreviation, however the long form DO NOT is also correct and used.

The form of the auxiliary verb DO for the 3rd person singular (he/she/it) is DOESN’T.

When the verb is “to be” or “can”, we don’t use the auxiliary verb DON’T, we simply place NOT after the verb:   She is not interesting. /Cheryl can not walk.


Choose DON’T, NOT, NO in the following sentences:

  1. ___________ leave me!
  2. Can you __________ bring this to her?
  3. _________ person is innocent.
  4. _________, I will not run all the way there.
  5. My friend does ________ agree with her family.
  6. _________ you have something better to do?
  7. They ___________ want to see this movie.



  1. DON’T, 2. NOT, 3. NO, 4. NO, 5. NOT, 6. DON’T, 7. DON’T


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