We all know how are children can ask the best questions. Last night at dinner my daughter, Emma, asked my wife, Tricia, and I a very interesting questioned. Emma wondered if it was correct grammar to say, "Isn't she pretty?" because it would sound strange if you said, "Is not she pretty?" Emma continued by confirming that isn't is short for is not.

Tricia and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. We praised Emma for making such an astute observation but we still do know the answer. How is the phrase, "Isn't she pretty" grammatically correct? Thank you.
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The only thing I'm certain about regarding contraction is that english teachers dislike 'em in my experience. Emotion: stick out tongue I do believe, though, that it is basically asking if someone thinks otherwise, but I will agree it does not slide off the tongue like its contraction.

'Is not she pretty' is an archaic form.

Consider this from Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey': "the tallest is Isabella, my eldest; is not she a fine young woman?"

Or this from Jane Austen's 'Emma' (rather an apt name, considering your circumstance): "Well, Miss Woodhouse," said Harriet, when they had quitted the house, and after waiting in vain for her friend to begin; "Well, Miss Woodhouse, (with a gentle sigh,) what do you think of her?-- Is not she very charming?"

Today, outside the odd literary instance, the form seems only to have survived as a contraction.

Best wishes, Clive
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Hi W,

I'm surprised to hear you say that your English teachers dislike contractions, because they're such a normal and everyday part of the spoken language.

Best wishes, Clive
english teachers dislike 'em
For formal writing, perhaps. But if your teacher won't tolerate them under any circumstances, maybe you need to get a new teacher!

Emma wondered if it was correct grammar to say, "Isn't she pretty?" because it would sound strange if you said, "Is not she pretty?"
Yes. It is perfectly grammatical.

Grammarians think of questions as being transformed forms of statements.
So, for example, the statement She is pretty can be made into a question by inverting the subject (she) and verb (is) to form Is she pretty?

Likewise the negative questions come from a corresponding negative statement.

She is not pretty.

In modern English the transformation of a negative statement into a question can be done in two ways:

1 Invert subject and verb.

Is she not pretty?
This gives a rather formal, even stilted sounding form, but is fine grammatically.

2. First contract the verb and the negative: is not > isn't
She isn't pretty.
Then invert the subject and the contraction.
Isn't she pretty?

There is no transformational rule (in modern English) that allows the movement of the negative not to the left across the subject except as a negative contraction connected to the verb. For this reason, Is not she pretty cannot be generated as a grammatical sentence (in modern English). The not must be expressed as an attached n't or it can't be inverted with a subject.

So, strange as it may seem, even though in most circumstances isn't is the same as is not, the two expressions are not absolute grammatical equivalents. They undergo transformations in different ways when forming questions.

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Yea, she doesn't like 'em, but she let's us get away with them except for in essays. I purposely used them whenever I could on a test just to annoy her. She says that they arose form slurring of speech so they are not proper.
Does she also think that languages change over the centuries because too many people have wax in their ears? Emotion: smile
my daughter, Emma, asked my wife, Tricia, and I

... that "I" should be "me."
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