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Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large
"Don't" and "doesn't"
Thursday September 25th 2008
Question
Difference between "Don't" and "doesn't"? — Jeanette
Answer

Jeanette has asked about the difference between don't and doesn't. These are negative forms of one of the most important verbs in English.

My colleague Kory Stamper, an editor of the Learner's Dictionary, responds:

 

Both don't and doesn't are contractions. Don't is a contraction of do not, while doesn't is a contraction of does not, and they both act as auxiliary verbs.

In English, don't is used when speaking in the first and second person plural and singular and the third person plural ("I," "you," "we," and "they"). It can be used to make a negative statement:

         I don't like seafood.
         You don't want to do that.
         We don't want to go home yet.
         They don't have to pay now.

It can also be used when asking a question:

         You want to buy one, don't you?
         Don't they want to go?


Doesn't, on the other hand, is used when speaking in the third person singular only ("he," "she," and "it"). Like don't, doesn't is used to make negative statements:

         He doesn't like me.
         She doesn't want to leave now.
         It doesn't look like he'll be able to make it.

And it is also used when asking a question:

         Doesn't she like the play?
         It looks like rain, doesn't it?

The big difference in use between don't and doesn't is that don't is also used to give commands (commands in English are always given in the second person singular or plural):

         Don't touch the stove!

Doesn't cannot be used in giving commands.

Don't is occasionally used in American English speech and in historical writing as a contraction of does not (as in, "He don't know where he is going."), but this use is now considered improper and should be avoided. Remember that in modern speech and writing, don't cannot be used in the third person singular.

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