Common Errors in Spoken English: Don’t, Doesn’t

Don’t, Doesn’t

by Owen Fourie

What is the problem with these statements?

  • She don’t understand me.
  • He don’t like getting wet.
  • It don’t work anymore.

Such expressions are heard, and they jar on the hearing of most speakers of the English language.

Sadly, this usage can be seen in writing too:

“I’ve been careful while designing this gadget to make sure that it don’t restrict the user …”

Correctly, the adverb not is being used to make a negative statement, and it is being combined with the auxiliary verb in a contracted form: do not becomes don’t.

The problem is not a disagreement in number between subject and verb.

Singular and plural subjects can take do or don’t, but there is one exception, and that is the problem here: In the third person singular, the correct form is does or doesn’t, not do or don’t.

Let’s remove the negation for a moment:

  • She do understand me.
  • He do like getting wet.
  • It do work …

This makes the error more obvious. It should be

  • She does understand me.
  • He does like getting wet.
  • It does work …

These are instances of the present emphatic tense.

Restoring the negation, we would then have

  • She doesn’t understand me.
  • He doesn’t like getting wet.
  • It doesn’t work anymore.

Here is a simple tabulation of the correct negative forms of the infinitive to do. Only in the present and past tenses will you see the negative forms of do as contractions.


Person/ Number Present Emphatic Tense Past Emphatic Tense
1st/Singular I don’t I didn’t
2nd/Singular You don’t You didn’t
3rd/Singular She doesn’t

He doesn’t

It doesn’t

She didn’t

He didn’t

It didn’t

1st/Plural We don’t We didn’t
2nd/Plural You don’t You didn’t
3rd/Plural They don’t They didn’t

It is important to note the consistency of these forms and the one exception—third person singular in the present emphatic tense. That is where you must not use don’t.

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If there are other usages in speech that have confused you, mention them here to get clarity. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

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