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On Negation - Descriptive Grammar


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A positive clause can be negated by inserting 'not' between the operator and the predication: I have finished -> I have not finished.

If no operator is present in the positive clause, the dummy operator  DO is introduced: She works hard. –> She does not work hard.

Syntactic features of clause negation:

• Negative clauses differ syntactically from positive clauses: the can typically be followed by positive tag questions:

They aren't ready, ARE they?; They are ready, AREN'T they?

• They can be followed by negative tag clauses, with additive meaning:

They aren't ready, and NEITHER are you.

• They can be followed by negative agreement responses:

A. He doesn't know Russian. B: No, he DOESN'T.

• They can be followed by non-assertive items:

He won't notice ANY change in you, EITHER.

Negative words can be negative in:

- both form and meaning: not, never, no

-negative in meaning but not in form: seldom, rarely, hardly, barely, little, few

In formal style, negation can be at the beginning of the sentence:

He didn't say a word:

Not a word did he say.

Non assertive items can be determiners, pronouns, or adverbs.

For example: any, anybody, at all, ever.

-We haven't had ANY lunch.

A negative item may be said to govern (or determine the occurence of) a nonassertive item only if the latter is within the SCOPE of the negative, ie within the stretch of language over which the negative item has a semantic influence. The scope of negation normaly extends from the negative item itself to the end of the clause.

If an assertive form is used, it must lie outside the scope:

I didn't listen to some of the speakers (I listened to some.);

I didn't listen to any of the speakers (I listened to none.)

Local negation negates a word or phrase, without making the clause negative. One common type involves the combination of NOT with a morphologically negated gradable adjective/adverb:

She's not unintelligent woman. (She's fairly intelligent woman.)

The scope of negation may or may not include the meaning of the modal auxiliaries. The contrast is shown in the following sentences with 'may not', where the paraphrases indicate the scope of negation:

• Auxiliary negation: You may not smoke in here. (You are not allowed to smoke here.)

• Main verb negation: They may not like the party. (Is is possible that they do not like the party.)

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