Saturday, December 31, 2011

"if" Negations

Last post I found myself writing a construction that always confuses me, but is so common it was the first wording that appeared. Something like:

"I wonder if the realization of the perfect ending isn't part of the pleasure of reading."

"Isn't". Negative. Huh? (I think it has something to do with the subjunctive created by "I wonder if", but not sure and too tired to think it through.

I made it positive and CLEAR-- I wonder if the realization MIGHT BE....
Anyway, do you ever use that negative construction? Like:

She had to consider if he wasn't lying to her.
I questioned if she couldn't be this cheerful every day.

Well, now I'm having trouble coming up with examples! But I know I encounter this all the time in editing.  The "I wonder" and other conditional verbs seem to cause this.

Anyone else come across an example?  Anyone have any ideas why we do that?


J. L. Bell said...

Isn't it always that way?

Leona said...

@ J.L too funny! Isn't it great how you came up with something so quickly? :P

Robin Lemke said...

I feel like this must go back to some old English grammar construction. Like how in the carol we sing "The Lord is come" and it's technically correct, but that construction isn't used much anymore.

Nic said...

My instinct is that it's related to the way we use negative questions to doublecheck/ask for agreement about information we already believe to be true.

"Isn't part of the pleasure of reading the realization of the perfect ending?" That's perfectly correct English, and has a very different connotation from saying, "Is part of the pleasure of reading the realization of the perfect ending?"

Clare K. R. Miller said...

Hmm, I think I would write your original sentence, but not your two examples--maybe just because they're in the third person? This kind of thing gets really confusing in the third person.