Already [in negative sentences]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by hermes2, May 5, 2010.

  1. hermes2 New Member

    Most of prescriptive grammars I used to study highlighted the uses of the adverb "already" as being "only" used in affirmative present perfect clauses.
    Well, and there I came across a sentence which said:

    " If he DIDN'T already have a girlfriend, I'd ask him out",
    where we can appreciate neither a present perfect, nor an affirmative clause.

    I wonder if this is possible? I guess it is, but on what grounds?

    Thanks a lot for this superb forum.

    From a Spanish teacher of English (EFL).
  2. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    There's an interesting difference between:

    If he didn't already have a girlfriend, I'd ask him out - here we are considering present policy: he has a girlfriend, so I'm not going to ask him out.

    If he didn't yet have a girlfriend, I'd ask him out - here we are in the past: my habit was to ask out those guys who hadn't found themselves a girlfriend.

    P.S. The first formula can have the second meaning, but the second formula can't have the first meaning, in my view.
    Last edited: May 5, 2010
  3. Sikaranista Senior Member

    American English
    Already is commonly used in negative sentences, typically with the conditional "if".

    "If he hadn't already completed the work, I would have helped him."

    "If you're not already a member of our club, please join today."

    "If I'm not already crazy, I certainly will be by the time this project is completed."

    "If you have not already heard, there was a terrible fire downtown."
  4. meangirl1909 New Member

    Is the usage allowed in academic writing?
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    Hello Meangirl, and welcome to the forum.

    I wonder which precise usage you are asking about, already in negative sentences with the main verb in the present perfect, or some other sentence form.

    I think I'm happy with Sikaranista's four examples, and here is an example from the British National Corpus where already is used with the negative present perfect in a technical book:

    In this chapter I shall set out all those questions which are most frequently asked by prospective patients, and which have not already been covered in Chapter 1; and in Chapter 3, by giving details of the progress of one particular case, I shall endeavour to provide some idea of what to expect during a typical regression therapy session.

    However good grammar books don't warn you not to use forms without good reason, and there are plenty of moments where already doesn't seem idiomatic with the negative present perfect: e.g. I have not already met her should probably be I have not yet met her:tick:.

    Why yet isn't used for already in the example I've just quoted from the Corpus is quite a delicate question. In post 2 above I hint at the subtlety of the difference in some contexts.
  6. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    I think the prohibition applies to sentences like
    "I didn't go there already" :cross:
  7. meangirl1909 New Member

    Thank you for your answer, I quite understand

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