Here’s Why the Contraction for “Will Not” Isn’t “Willn’t”

Grammar nerds rejoice!

ContractionTatiana Ayazo /Shutterstock

English grammar can be super confusing. It’s hard enough to learn all of the rules—and exceptions to the rules—throughout life, but imagine learning English as a second language! There might not be enough note cards in the world to keep track of all the little nuances you have to remember. One of the areas of grammar that can get the most confusing is contractions. Since you’re probably already lost, here are the 20 most confusing rules in the grammar world.

Like many grammar rules in the English language, using “won’t” as the contraction for “will not” doesn’t make a lot of sense. If we formed it like most other contractions, the result would be “willn’t.” Admittedly, that is a bit more difficult to say than “willn’t,” but come on, English language. What’s the deal?

Blame our European ancestors. Centuries ago, the Ye Olde English verb willan (which meant to wish or will) had two forms: wil- for the present tense and wold- for the past tense. But as time went on, the pronunciation of these verbs kept changing, from “wool” to “wel” to “woll” to “ool.” Even though apostrophes and contractions can get confusing, we need them. Here’s how confusing life would be without punctuation.

ContractionTatiana Ayazo /ShutterstockBy the 16th century, there was finally some consensus on the preferred versions of this pesky word. Wil- became the familiar “will,” and wold- became our “would.” But the most popular form of the negative verb became “woll not,” which was contracted to “wonnot,” which modern English turned into “won’t.”

So contracting “will not” the logical way may not be so logical after all. Another thing that isn’t logical? When grammar suddenly changes. Here are some grammar rules that have changed in the last decade.

Claire Nowak
Claire is a writer, editor and digital strategist with more than 10 years of experience reporting on facts, trivia and quotes. Her natural curiosity lends itself to stories on history, trivia and "Did you know?" curiosities, and her work has appeared in Taste of Home, The Family Handyman, The Healthy and iHeart Media. A former editor at Reader's Digest and proud Marquette University grad, she lives in Milwaukee with her fiancé and their corgi and enjoys binge-listening to true-crime podcasts.