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  1. #1
    sula54 is offline Junior Member
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    Question Both + negative sentence

    Dear Teachers,

    Today I read an English grammar book in Chinese, which suggests that when “both” context with a negative sentence, the meaning is “one of them is”.
    For example,

    Both Mary and Judy are not secretaries.
    = Mary and Judy, one of them is a secretary.


    Is that true? Frankly to say, I have never seen about this kind of sentence and my English grammar book says don’t use “both” with a negative sentence.

    To the best of my knowledge, I think it should be write like this.

    Mary or Judy is a secretary.” Not “Both Mary and Judy are not secretaries.

    With regards

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    Hello sula54
    I'm an not an English teacher. I teach French to Chinese speakers but I happen to teach them English once in a while. I studied the use of 'both' with them so I can tell you a little about it, if I may...

    Both means 'the 2 of them' and becomes 'neither' in a negative context.

    Both Mary and Judy are secretaires.
    = both of them are secretary.
    (Mary is a secretary and so is Judy)

    Neither Mary nor Judy is a secretary.
    = neither of them is a secretary.
    (Mary isn't a secretary ans neither is Judy)

    Hope this helps!
    Last edited by ruofei; 21-Mar-2005 at 09:08.

  3. #3
    sula54 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    Quote Originally Posted by ruofei
    Hello sula54

    Both means 'the 2 of them' and becomes 'neither' in a negative context.

    Both Mary and Judy are secretaires
    = both of them are secretary.
    = both Mary and Judy are secretary.
    (Mary is a secretary and so is Judy)

    Neither Mary them are secretaries
    = neither of them is a secretary
    = neither Mary nor Judy is a secretary
    (Mary isn't a secretary and neither is Judy)

    Hope this helps!
    Thank you, ruofei.
    However, it isn’t the point of my question.
    I know the usages of “both” and “neither” in your speech.
    I just wonder if it is true I can use “both +(negative sentance)” to show the meaning of “one of them is not” because I have never heard about it before.

    Let me repeat what the English grammar book in Chinese says.
    Both Mary and Judy are not secretaires.
    = Mary and Judy, one of them is not secretariy.
    = Mary and Judy, one of them is secretary. (But I don’t know which one.)


    I can’t find this kind of suggestion in my English grammar book in Enlgish, so I doubt about the accuracy of this Chinese English grammar book .

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    对不起 sula!
    I did miss your point... oops...

    I don't think you can use 'both' meaning 'one of them'...I'm not an expert though...Advanced members will be of a better helping hand!
    回头见!

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    The grammar book is wrong. I would never interpret that sentence as meaning one of them is a secrtary. Both means 2 seen as together in some way, when negative it applies to the two.

  6. #6
    sula54 is offline Junior Member
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    Exclamation Re: Both + negative sentence

    If "both + negative sentence" to show partly negative is a wrong grammar rule, then the Chinese textbooks have a very serious problem, because the Chinese textbooks for senior high school students teach them “both +not” means partly negative. To put it clearly, the textbooks suggest that “both +not” means, “one is right and the other is wrong” (please see the website: “http://www.pep.com.cn/200406/ca488716.htm”)
    Can it be possible all the Chinese English textbooks are wrong?

    In addition, when I used the key work of “not both of” to search on the google, I found some sentences such as “You're probably familiar with one, but not both of these” “Choose either, but not both of these two extra criteria.”

    Now I am totally confused. In my opinion, I think “not both of” do show the meaning of “one of them is not”, but I still feel the sentence of “Both windows aren’t open.” is rather strange than “one of windows is open.
    Last edited by sula54; 21-Mar-2005 at 02:14.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    The example you gave at the beginning did not have any such context. If you restrict things, then it changes things, but without the restriction, then it is not possible to get the 1 of 2 meaning.

  8. #8
    sula54 is offline Junior Member
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    Lightbulb Re: Both + negative sentence

    Dear tdol and any teachers,

    After reaching the data from the Internet, I think I probably know why I feel strange about the structure of “both” and “not”. However, I’m not sure what I think is right. Please correct me if my idea is wrong.

    Firstly, I think the confusing point is the positions between “both” and “not”. For example, if the sentence is like this:

    Not both Mary and Judy are secretaries.

    Then I will feel clear, because here “not” describes “both” which means, “One of them is not a secretary.” But, how about the other? “One of them is not a secretary.” doesn’t mean, “The other is a secretary.” Therefore, I think the problem in the grammar book is that:

    Not both Mary and Judy are secretaries.
    = One of Mary and Judy is not a secretary.
    (Partly negative, it makes sense to me.)
    = One of Mary and Judy is a secretary.
    (I feel strange here, because we just know one of them is not a secretary, the other can be or can’t be a secretary.)

    I think this is similar to the sentence of “Don’t take both of them.” , because I think the sentence means you may take one of them or none of them. As long as you don’t leave me nothing then I will be fine, but it doesn’t mean, “You have to take one of them.

    Furthermore, I think if we use this kind of sentence, we had better to put “not” before “both” not after “both”. For example:

    Not both Mary and Judy are secretaries.” is clearer than “Both Mary and Judy aren’t secretaries.”, because in the second sentence, others may think you are going to write a sentence of “Neither Mary nor Judy is a secretary.

    Is my explanation right?
    Last edited by sula54; 06-Jan-2009 at 01:52.

  9. #9
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    It's not that it's clearer, but that they mean something different. 'Not both...' means that neither ior, more likely, one is, while 'both aren't' means zero. However, the 'not both' example is a very strange sounding sentence, though the biscuit example is perfectly natural. The position of the negative is important as it can modify in different ways. I have tried brackets to show the difference here:
    (Not both) are secretaries
    Both are (not coming)

    Last edited by Tdol; 22-Mar-2005 at 02:02.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Both + negative sentence

    Quote Originally Posted by sula54
    Dear Teachers,
    Both Mary and Judy are not secretaries.
    = Mary and Judy, one of them is a secretary.
    It's possible, and ambiguous, and for that reason rarely used to refer to one of two; it requires a specific context. For example,

    Pat: She is a secretary.
    Max: Who?
    Pat: Mary.
    Max: What about Judy?
    Pat: She, too.
    Sam: She's not a secretary.
    Pat: Who?
    Sam: Judy.
    Max: Both Mary and Judy aren't secretaries? (Meaning, [a] of the two mentioned, one is not a secretary; Other meaning, [b] Neither one is a secretary)

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