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"Not" before verb in a simple tense

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"Not" before verb in a simple tense

Postby Audiendus » Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:11 pm

I was thinking about the old phrase used to describe a cup of tea: "The cup that cheers but not inebriates". It struck me that the grammar of this phrase is rather odd. We don't usually put "not" before a verb in a simple tense in the indicative mood; we would normally say "does not inebriate".

[Note: We do of course put "not" between an auxiliary verb and a participle (he has not arrived; I am not going) and between a modal verb and an infinitive (they could not come; you must not smoke). It is also permissible to put "not" before a simple tense in the subjunctive mood (I insist that he not come).]

Consider the following sentences:

1. Some of the actors sang, not spoke, their lines.
2. This piece of music begins, but not ends, with a loud chord.
3. He stood beside the chair but not sat down.
4. I ran, not walked.
5. I not walked but ran.

Which of the above sentences do you find acceptable? (3 and 5 seem definitely wrong.) Can anyone formulate a consistent rule stating when "not" can legitimately be used in this way?
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Re: "Not" before verb in a simple tense

Postby Slava » Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:37 pm

Audiendus wrote:Consider the following sentences:

1. Some of the actors sang, not spoke, their lines.
2. This piece of music begins, but not ends, with a loud chord.
3. He stood beside the chair but not sat down.
4. I ran, not walked.
5. I not walked but ran.

Which of the above sentences do you find acceptable? (3 and 5 seem definitely wrong.) Can anyone formulate a consistent rule stating when "not" can legitimately be used in this way?
I vote for 1 and 4, not 2, 3, or 5. 1 is pushing it a bit, but I can accept it.

Drop the "but" from 2 and it works quite well. It makes it clear that the speaker is accenting the opposite-ness of what he's trying to say.

One rule I feel has to be part of a full rule is that the text is meant to be thought of as spoken.
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Postby Enigma » Tue Aug 17, 2010 7:13 am

I don't think there would be an official rule, just an accepted pattern perhaps.

It seems to sound right only when the negated phrase is parenthical and all that is included is the the verb, not any adverbials, complements, etc:

1. Some of the actors sang, not spoke, their lines. Correct
2. This piece of music begins, but not ends, with a loud chord. Correct
3. He stood beside the chair but not sat down.
4. I ran, not walked. Correct
5. I not walked but ran.

As soon as you add objects and/or adverbials, it no longer sounds OK to me:

I walked home, not ran.
I walked home, not ran home.

I walked along the bridge, not ran.
I walked along the bridge, not ran along the bridge.
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Postby saparris » Tue Aug 17, 2010 5:04 pm

1. Some of the actors sang, not spoke, their lines.
2. This piece of music begins, but not ends, with a loud chord.
3. He stood beside the chair but not sat down.
4. I ran, not walked.
5. I not walked but ran.

Which of the above sentences do you find acceptable? (3 and 5 seem definitely wrong.)


I don't see any of these as being "acceptable" in good writing. Acceptable versions would as follows:

1. Some of the actors sang, rather than spoke, their lines.
2. This piece of music begins, but does not ends, with a loud chord.
3. He stood beside the chair but did not sit down.
4. I ran instead of walking (or ...but did not walk).
5. I walked but did not run.

Can anyone formulate a consistent rule stating when "not" can legitimately be used in this way?


I'm sure there are exceptions, but this one works pretty well:

When there is no other auxiliary verb, add some form of the verb "do" when making simple indicative sentences negative with the addition of "not." The rule does not apply when the main verb is a form of the "be."

I can't think of a simple rule that addresses the sentences above except "Don't write stuff that sounds weird."
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Postby Audiendus » Wed Aug 18, 2010 12:03 pm

It is interesting that there are different views about this. I am not sure about the following:
saparris wrote:5. I walked but did not run.

The contrast should be between walking and running, but the "but" in the above sentence contrasts walking with not running. It wrongly implies that normally when I walk, I also do some running. Compare:

1. He is an economist; he is not stupid.
2. He is an economist, but [he] is not stupid.

(1) implies that all economists are intelligent; (2) implies that most are stupid. I therefore suggest that the original sentence should read:

I walked; I did not run
or
I walked instead of running.

"The cup that cheers but not inebriates" certainly sounds weird to me, but perhaps it sounded more normal in the 19th century.
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Postby saparris » Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:56 pm

It is interesting that there are different views about this. I am not sure about the following:

5. I walked but did not run.

The contrast should be between walking and running, but the "but" in the above sentence contrasts walking with not running. It wrongly implies that normally when I walk, I also do some running.


I'm not sure that I see the contrast between "walking" and "not running," since it seems to me that the grammatical contrast would be between the two verbs, regardless of what appears before and after the contrasting word, "but."

Compare:

1. He is an economist; he is not stupid.
2. He is an economist, but [he] is not stupid.


These sentences use the verb to be, which more strongly suggests a pair of opposites than when action verbs are used (at least to me). You wouldn't say, for example, "He is an economist, but he is not a surgeon."

I walked but did not run.


Wouldn't this be a natural response to, "Henry, have you been running in the halls again"? (Henry probably say, "I walked but didn't run" or simply "No," but you get my point.)

"The cup that cheers but not inebriates" certainly sounds weird to me, but perhaps it sounded more normal in the 19th century.


Here's part of the poem where the line appears:

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful ev'ning in.

So not only did William Cowper sound a little weird. He also was a bit loosey goosey with his iambic pentameter.
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Postby Audiendus » Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:16 pm

Thanks for the quotation from the poem. On the point about "but":

saparris wrote:
5. I walked but did not run.

I'm not sure that I see the contrast between "walking" and "not running," since it seems to me that the grammatical contrast would be between the two verbs, regardless of what appears before and after the contrasting word, "but."

In that case, why does the "but" sound clearly wrong in "I passed but did not fail"? (We would say "No, I passed - I didn't fail!" or "I didn't fail - I passed!" We wouldn't insert a "but", even in writing.)
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Postby saparris » Thu Aug 19, 2010 10:35 am

In that case, why does the "but" sound clearly wrong in "I passed but did not fail"? (We would say "No, I passed - I didn't fail!" or "I didn't fail - I passed!" We wouldn't insert a "but", even in writing.)


I don't think you can make a case for the comparing walked but did not run and passed but did not not fail, since context (or semantics) would regulate against choosing a grammatical/syntactical structure that doesn't make sense.

Otherwise, Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" would not sound weird.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue May 08, 2012 1:05 am

Reading this interesting thread a couple of years later, it struck me that the participants missed a frequent usage they only hint at. Not missed, ignored. (Not really, but it illustrates my point.) And that point is that the usage of this phrase often refers to a word correction. Someone said or implied he RAN, not walked, so he corrected by saying "Not ran, WALKED. They are not so much correcting the action itself as the choice of words to describe it. When I read the sentences with this in mind and emphasizing the words that vary, more of the sentences seem correct to me. What do you think?
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