Verbal Negation

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Understanding Verbal Negation

NEGATION Opens in new window (we've learnt in the preceding study) refers to the process of forming negative sentences, as opposed to affirmative sentences. Also we learnt that there are two forms of negation: verbal and nonverb negation. In this study we focus exclusively on Verbal Negation.

VERBAL NEGATION uses the negative element not with a verb to negate an affirmative statement. This is exemplified below:

Affirmative Statement
  • Yvonne is very happy.
Negative Statement
  • Yvonne isn’t very happy.

Types of Verbal Negation

There are two types of verbal negation, primary verb negation and secondary verb negation. They differ in the form of the verb with which “not” is used. Because of their complex and lengthy nature, these two forms have been treated in designated webpages. See links below:

Primary Verb Negation

Primary verb negationOpens in new window refers to the use of “not” to negate a clause that contains a present or past tense verb. Learn more!Opens in new window

Secondary Verb Negation

Secondary verb negationOpens in new window refers to the use of the negative element not to negate a clause that has a verb in one of its secondary forms. Learn more!Opens in new window

Additional Facts about Verbal Negation

The form of negation can differ from what we have already seen and other factors can significantly change the meaning of a negated sentence.

Multiple Negation

Multiple negation occurs when a clause contains more than two negative forms (See Double Negative Opens in new window). For example, in the following sentence, not appears with the auxiliary verb could and the main verb respond. This is an example of independent multiple negation, in which two negatives make the statement positive.

  • I couldn’t not respond.

In this sentence, the speaker states that there was something that he or she could not do, and that was not respond. Thus, the sentence implies that the speaker did not respond. Sentences of this nature occur in spoken English; even imperatives may have not twice. Survey the following sentence.

  • Don’t not go because of me. (= You shouldn’t decide not to go because of me.)

In many cases, particularly if the first verb is a modal, the meaning could be expressed in a simpler fashion by an affirmative sentence such as those shown in parentheses in the following.

  • I didn’t not pay attention. (= I paid attention.)
  • She won’t not tell the truth. (= She will tell the truth.)
  • You can’t not go with them. (= You must go with them.)
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  • References
    • The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide (Negation [2008:88-96]) By Ron Cowan

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