|Negation is a common strategy in argumentation. In arguing a point of view, it is often necessary to negate an opposing viewpoint, to refute an argument, and to remove misunderstanding through the use of negation. For example:|
|Different rhetorical strategies involving the use of the negation can be found under the following sections:|
|Definition and Reinterpretation|
|Comparison and Contrast|
|Concession and Rebuttal|
|In this section, the grammatical structures involved in the use of negation will be dealt with.|
|Types of Negative Markers|
|In English, negative markers can be divided into three groups: Not-negator, N-negator (or No-negator) and negative affix, as shown in the table below.|
|(Modified from Tottie’s (1991) table on classification of the intra-sentential negative expressions in English.)|
|There are also other words that possess negative meanings such as negative polarity items (e.g. any) and inherent negatives (e.g. fail), but they are not covered in this section because of limited space.|
|‘Not’ is a commonly used negative marker. Despite its wide use, ‘not’ cannot be placed anywhere in a sentence.|
|As a modifier of an adjective, adverb, or a prepositional phrase, ‘not’ can be placed next to the word or phrase it modifies. For example:|
|It is not worthwhile to spend time on something you do not really like or not in your expertise.|
|However, it is ungrammatical to have ‘not’ before or after a finite verb, as shown in the following examples:|
|*I not told you this.
*He not came back.
*She saw not him yesterday.
*I ate not the apple.
|To remove the grammatical error, the auxiliary verb ‘do’ in the correct tense should be used in front of ‘not’, followed by the bare verb form (without any tense markings)|
|*I not told you this. --> I did not tell you this.
*He not came back. -->He did not come back.
*She saw not him yesterday -->She did not see him yesterday.
*I ate not the apple -->I did not eat the apple.
|In the above cases, it can be seen that ‘not’ comes before the non-finite verbs (verbs without any tenses) but after the finite auxiliary verbs (auxiliary verbs with tenses) ‘Not’ also comes before non-finite verbs in other sentence constructions:|
|I am sorry about not having told you his story. (‘having’ is a non-finite verb or a verb without a tense)
They asked me not to tell you this. (‘tell’ is a non-finite verb or a verb without a tense)
|In the case of modal auxiliary verbs (shall/should, will/would, can/would, may/might, must), because the modal auxiliaries have tenses, ‘not’ comes after the modal auxiliary finite verb and before the non-finite verb. For example:|
|You should not smoke in the train. (‘should’ has a tense, ‘smoke’ does not have a tense)
They could not be the same. (‘could’ has a tense, ‘be’ does not have a tense)
|Apart from the use of ‘not’ to represent a negation, there are other negative markers, like ‘never’, ‘no’ or ‘nothing’, which can negate a statement.|
|This was not a surprise. <---> This was no surprise.
He does not sing. <---> He never sings.
We did not come to school. <---> None of us came to school.
The students did not pass the exam. <---> No student passed the exam.
|The use of negative affixes is straight-forward. By adding a suitable affix, the meaning of the word is reversed. Nonetheless, selecting the correct affix is the most problematic part of using negative affixes. Some words use ‘in-’ as the prefix to produce the antonyms (words opposite in meanings); others use ‘un-’ or ‘dis-’. For example:|
|Possible – Impossible
Normal – Abnormal
Logical – Illogical
Relevant – Irrelevant
Inhabitable – Uninhabitable
Governmental organizations – Non-governmental organizations
|It is interesting to note that for the words beginning with an ‘m’ or ‘p’, the prefix ‘im’ tends to be used as a negative affix, whereas for words beginning with ‘re’, the prefix ‘ir’ is often used.|
|Exercise on the Use of Negative Markers|
|(1) Which of the following sentence(s) give(s) the correct usage of negation.|
|1. Your ace buddies might betray you, but your parents will.
2. You can do whatever you like in the lounge of the library; you can’t even eat or drink there.
3. I regret having not informed you this news.
a – 1&2 are illogical; while 3 has a misplacement of not, which should be put before ‘having’ i.e. I regret not having informed you this news.
|(2) Tick the box below provided if the sentence is correct.|
b – ‘disable’ refers to deprivation of physical strength.
d – ‘uncurable’ does not exist.
e – depending on the seriousness of the lie, lying can in theory be impeachable.
|Contrasting the Negative Markers|
|Many negative markers seem to share the same purpose – to negate; but there are subtle semantic differences among them. As each of them has its own unique features, it is important for writers to identify the specific meanings of these markers.|
|‘Not’ and ‘No’
Negative statements with a ‘not’ may have different implied meanings than those with a ‘no’, even if they can be used interchangeably sometimes. The following examples can tell the difference.
|He is not a father. <---> He is no father.
We did not receive any message. <---> We received no message (at all).
|When the two sentences in the first pair are contrasted, the first one means he is not a father, as he has no son or daughter. However, the second sentence has a meaning that he is a father of someone but he is not performing the role that a father does. In the second pair, the first sentence means we did not expect or receive any message but the second sentence shows we expected but did not receive any message.|
|Moreover, ‘No’ is more emphatic than ‘not a’ or ‘not any’ when stating a negative idea. For example,|
|There aren't any staff in the office. <---> There’re no staff in the office.
I don’t have any girlfriends. <---> I have no girlfriends (to speak of).
|‘Not’ and ‘Never’
‘Not’ and ‘Never’ do have some common features in usage, especially when ‘not’ is used as an adverb. For example, they must be placed in front of the main verb. However, ‘never’ does not require the dummy auxiliary ‘do’ in forming a sentence.
|I did not leave my brothers behind.<---> I never left my brothers behind.|
|‘Not’ and other ‘N-negators’
It is not usual for ‘not’ to be used together with a ‘N-negator’ in the same clause. ‘Not’, very often, pairs with non-assertive items.
|I didn't eat anything. <---> I ate nothing.|
|When both the ‘not’ and ‘N-negator’ are used, the sentence will become a double-negation which does not carry the opposite meaning—it is grammatically wrong and a sign of disrespect.|
|I didn’t eat anything. ≠ I didn't eat nothing.|
|‘No’ and ‘None’
‘No’ and ‘None’ are the same in meaning. But ‘no’ is used right before a singular or plural noun, while ‘none’ is used before the preposition ‘of’ and a determiner or a pronoun.
|No story is telling the truth. <---> None of the stories is telling the truth.
None of them is telling the truth.
|Whenever two people or objects are referred to, ‘neither of’ should be used instead of ‘none of’.|
|My parents do not come from Hong Kong. <---> Neither of my parents comes from Hong Kong.|
|‘Neither’, ‘Nor’ and ‘Not either’
‘Neither’, ‘Nor’ and ‘Not either’ all mean ‘also not’. But their usages are not the same. For ‘neither’ and ‘nor’, an inverted word order comes after the negative marker. However, when ‘not either’ is used, the normal word order follows.
|I won’t come to the party, neither will Jack.
I won’t come to the party, nor will Jack.
I won’t come to the party, Jack won’t either.
|There is a difference between ‘neither’ and ‘nor’. ‘Nor’ can be used with ‘not’. However, it can never be replaced by ‘neither’. For instance,|
|I won’t come tomorrow, nor the next day. <---> *I won’t come tomorrow, neither the next day.|
|Negative Markers in Questions|
|Negative questions can be used for a variety of purposes. A negative question can be used to reconfirm a point or it can be used as an exclamation. A negative question can also soften the tone of a suggestion or ask for a confirmation of a negative belief.|
|Confirmation: Didn’t you know that the project would be postponed?
Exclamation: Isn’t this waterfall an ideal place to visit?
Hasn’t he finished his homework?
Tone-softener: Wouldn’t it be better if you could stay with us?
Confirmation of Negative belief: Don’t you think so?
|Negative questions can also be used as question tags. A question tag or tag question is usually appended to a statement. If the statement is positive, the tag is generally negative, and vice versa.|
|He has called you, hasn’t he? <---> He hasn’t called you, has he?
The hearing finished yesterday, did it not? <---> The hearing did not finish
yesterday, did it?
It is unhealthy to smoke, is it not? <---> It is not healthy to smoke, is it?
|The first pair of examples are informal expressions and therefore the shortened form ‘n’t’ is used. However, in formal English, the shortened form will be reconverted to their original forms like ‘did it not’ or ‘is she not’.|
|In English, the word ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ preceding the answer corresponds to the truth condition referred to regardless of whether the question is negatively or positively phrased. The same is true with the shortened form using an auxiliary finite verb only after the word ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. For example:|
|John has come back to school, hasn't he? Yes, he has. (He has come back to school.)
John hasn’t finished his homework, has he? No, he hasn’t. (He hasn’t finished  his homework.)
Didn’t John come back to school today? Yes, he did. (He came back to school  today.)
Didn’t John finish his homework? No, he didn’t. (He didn’t finish his homework.)
|In Chinese, however, it is done differently. When a negative question is used, even if the truth condition requires the use of a negative statement, the answer is still yes. This is because a negative question is used to confirm what the asker of the question believes. In Chinese, to answer ‘yes’ means the answerer agrees with the asker. It is not stating a truth condition, as in English.|
|Negative Markers in Sentence-Initial Position|
|Negative markers can be put in the initial position of a sentence in formal writing to emphasize a negative point. But in this situation, subject inversion is required. Here are some examples of negative inversions.|
|Not a penny would I pay for this awful dinner.
No longer is he the patient listener he used to be.
Never will I talk to him again.
Not until yesterday did I get to know about the story.
Under no circumstances will I get married.
|Before an adverbial connective, the negative marker can still be placed at the beginning without the use of inversion. For example:|
|Not surprisingly, the public would know about this one day.|
In English, there are double negations and triple negations. In a sentence with double negation, there are two negative markers, which can be ‘not’ plus ‘not’, ‘not’ plus an ‘N-negator’, ‘not’ plus a negative affix, an ‘N-negator’ plus a negative affix and so on. The negatives should not be in the same clause however, in the case of two ‘nots’, and usually what we find in the same clause are “not’ or an ‘N-negator’ with a negative affix.
|Putting two 'nots' together does not mean this will bring out the positive side, but other combinations of markers can do just that. Let’s look at the pairs of examples below.|
|1) I won’t force them not to tell him the truth. = I allow them to tell him the truth.
(≠ I force them to tell him the truth.)
2) I can’t do nothing and just stand there. = I have to do something rather than just standing there.
(≠ I can do something rather than just standing there.)
3) I wasn’t dissatisfied with the result. = I was satisfied, by the result.
(≠ I was satisfied by the result.)
|As far as the tone is concerned, double negation can produce both understatements and overstatements, depending on the wording. Let’s have a look at the following sentences.|
|1) The movie wasn’t uninteresting.
2) I answered the question not in an unskillful way, I think.
|The two examples above are understatements. Example #1 reveals that the movie was quite interesting, while in example #2, the writer thinks that he or she answered the question quite skillfully.|
|Double negation can also be used for emphatic purpose, for example:|
|1) I won’t find anywhere to go.
2) You will get nothing, if you tell anyone about this.
|In making concession and rebuttal argument, double negation is also applicable. For example:|
|We do not deny our government is imperfect, but it has improved and is still improving.|
|1) I can’t do nothing no more = I can do more.
2) No one never say nothing.(Gao, 1997) = Every one will say something sometimes.
|What to Watch out for in Using Negation|
|Accomplished writers may find no problem in using negative statements in writing. But there are some subtle usages of negation that students may overlook.|
|Several problematic areas regarding the usage of negation will be discussed below.|
|Affixal and Non-Affixal Negation|
|Whether to use affixal or non-affixal negation in English writing may not be too much of a concern, as many writers think that the two are more or less the same. However, if a writer ignores the difference between the two, he or she can produce not only stylistically awkward sentences, but even ungrammatical ones too.|
|It is better to use a negative affix rather than a negative marker in front of an adjective. For example:|
|This will lead to an undesirable result. <---> This will lead to a not desirable result.|
|Some a non-affixal negation can be ungrammatical, for example.|
|How uncomfortable the bed was. ≠ *How not comfortable the bed was.
It is an invaluable and imperfect artwork. ≠ *It is a not valuable and not perfect artwork.
You may undo the change by clicking that button. ≠*You may not do the change by clicking that button.
I suffered a great discomfort. ≠*I suffered a great not comfort.
|In addition, there are some confusing cases where the meaning of the word with a negative prefix is not equivalent to the antonym of that word without the prefix.|
|I feel uneasy to speak in front of my father. <---> I feel not easy to speak in front of my father.|
|The ‘uneasy’ in the first sentence means ‘uncomfortable’; whereas the ‘not easy’ in the second sentence means ‘not difficult’.|
|Scope of Negation|
|Scope of negation concerns the governing power of the negative marker in a sentence. The negator may have a semantic influence on the phrases nearby and thus the location of the negator may affect the meaning of the sentence. Here are some examples:|
|1) Many people did not come to school today. ≠ Not many people came to school today.
2) She definitely didn’t speak to him. ≠ She didn’t definitely speak to him. (Quirk, 1994)
|The same negator ‘not’ is used in the examples. Nevertheless, the different locations of the ‘not’ can lead to different meanings. In the first pair, the focus of the first sentence is put on ‘did not come’; while the second sentence has its focus on ‘not many people’. This causes a difference in the implications of the two sentences. The first one means that there were many people absent today and the second means a few people came back today. The second pair show a similar disjunction. The focus of the first sentence is ‘didn’t tell’ and the second one is ‘didn’t definitely’. Therefore, the implication of the first sentence becomes ‘It’s definite that she didn’t speak to him.’ And the implication of the second sentence is ‘It is not definite that she spoke to him.’|
|Even if the position of ‘not’ is fixed, the scope of negation can still influence more than one part and causes semantic ambiguity. Let’s discuss some examples cited by Swan (1995).|
|Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.
Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.
Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.
|The above three examples show that the negator ‘not’ can affect the action ‘write’, the object ‘Sue’ or the time ‘yesterday’. This, therefore, leads to three different implications.|
|Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.(because he phoned her rather than wrote to her)
Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.(because he wrote to Ann rather than Sue) Arthur didn’t write to Sue yesterday.(because he wrote to Sue this morning)
|As a result, when writing English essays, the writer should clarify what message is intended in the negation by elaborating on the point.|
|Negators and Assertive Items
Negators can pair with non-assertive items such as ‘anything’ and ‘anyone’, but in many circumstances, they cannot be used with assertive ones, like ‘something’ and someone’. (Quirk, 1994)
|I can’t find anything inside. <---> *I can’t find something inside.|
|I didn’t go out with anyone this weekend. <---> *I didn’t go out with someone this weekend.|
|I never give my girl friend anything <---> *I always give my girl friend nothing.|
|There are some other assertive items – e.g. ‘quite’, ‘pretty’ and ‘rather’ – that cannot be used in a negative statement.|
|This writing is quite good. <---> *This writing is not quite good.
The dinner was pretty nice. <---> *The dinner was not pretty nice.
The test was rather difficult. <---> *The test was not rather difficult.
|Change the following positive questions into negative ones by adding ‘not’.|
|1. Can you do your homework by yourself?|
Can’t you do your homework by yourself?
|2. Have you received my email?|
Haven’t you received my email?
|3. Stop talking for a minute, can you?|
Stop talking for a minute, can’t you?
|Are there any changes of tone in the above questions after the addition of ‘not’? If yes, please specify.|
Answers for the above 3 questions: b – After adding the ‘not’ in the auxiliaries, the questions become an exclamation of a criticizing attitude
|Choose the most appropriate elaboration for the statements below.|
|I can’t really figure out what she wants to say in the writing. …|
b – the elaboration should be she is not good at writing. Thus, answer b is the best option.
|John has three girlfriends now. …|
a – the ‘it’ refers to a fact. It shows that the speaker is not fooling the audience. ‘No joke’ implies it is a serious situation.
|Tick the box provided if the statement(s) is (are) correct.|
4, 5, 9, 10 are correct sentences
2.I couldn’t see someone working in the office->I couldn’t see anyone working
3.Not a word I would say ->Not a word would I say.
6.I haven’t called you, haven’t I? -> I haven’t called you, have I?
7.The journey isn’t pretty demanding ->The journey isn’t too demanding.
8.There isn’t enough food, neither water ->There isn’t enough food, nor water.
|Correct the following sentences.|
|1. Not only they have to choose the major subject, they must decide carefully whether they will continue their studies in a local or overseas university.|
Not only do they have to choose the major subject, but they must also decide carefully whether they will continue their studies in a local or overseas university
|2. Learning isn’t absolutely an easy process.|
Learning is absolutely not an easy process.
|3. Is there someone not find it expensive?|
Is there anyone who does not find it expensive?