Partial negation?

Snappy_is_here

Senior Member
Japanese
"He's not going to study all day."

Does this sentence mean he studies part of the day (maybe one hour or so, but not from morning till sunset)?
or
Does this sentence mean that he's not going to studay at all?
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I understand this to mean that he intends to study for part of the day, not all of the day.

    With the right context, it could mean that he is not going to study at all, but that would be unusual.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    It could mean either one, Snappy. It is more likely that it means "He will only study part of the day." Usually, a speaker would say "he is not going to study" or "he is not going to study today" if that speaker meant that he was not going to study at all. However, speakers are not always entirely logical or idiomatic with what they say. Saying "He is not going to study all day" might just mean "He is not going to study" if it is a reply to a remark like: I told him to study all day. No. He is not going to study all day. (Maybe this means he is not going to study at all. I had better ask him to make sure.)

    Usually speakers will say: He is not going to study at all. Or: He is not going to study.

    Usually speakers will say: "He is not going to study all day" to mean "he is only going to study part of the day".

    PS I just saw Panjandrum's reply. I agree. In normal circumstances, a listener will understand that statement to mean that he is only going to study part of the day. Any other meaning would be unusual.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In English grammar books, this issue is known as the scope of negation - ie which bit is being negated. It's usually possible to move the not about so that it's clearer which bit it is, but I don't think that's possible in your sentence, so both meanings are possible, as olwman says. The difference would probably be signalled in speech though. For the 'study some of the day' meaning I would expect all to be stressed in speech (to emphasise that that is what is being negated). In writing, it might mean italicising all. For the 'not study at all' meaning, I would expect normal stress (ie on STUDY and DAY).
     
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    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you everyone.

    Although it may depend on the situation,
    I feel "I'm not going to drink all night." means that I am going to drink but I am not going to drink continuously until the morning comes,"
    while "I'm not going to eat all night." means that I am not going to eat at all until the morning comes."

    Am I correct?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    That sounds right to me, Snappy. How long have you been thinking about this language problem? It is hard for me to imagine better examples to illustrate the two different meanings. :)

    I agree that the context can sometimes allow words to say things we don't ordinarily expect them to. In both your last examples, the sentences could possibly have the other meanings: I'm not going to drink all night could mean I'm not going to drink at all. "I'm not going to eat all night" could mean "I'm only going to eat until nine o'clock".
     

    uhandai

    New Member
    English
    In English grammar books, this issue is known as the scope of negation - ie which bit is being negated. It's usually possible to move the not about so that it's clearer which bit it is, but I don't think that's possible in your sentence, so both meanings are possible, as olwman says. The difference would probably be signalled in speech though. For the 'study some of the day' meaning I would expect all to be stressed in speech (to emphasise that that is what is being negated). In writing, it might mean italicising all. For the 'not study at all' meaning, I would expect normal stress (ie on STUDY and DAY).
    Yes, Scope of negation.

    It is defined in Quirk et al (1985: 787).

    There do exist two explanations for the setence: either "He's not going to study // all day" or "He's not going to study all day (i.e. part of the day)"

    Intonation wil remove the ambiguity in speaking, and Context serves in writing.
     
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