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  1. #1
    suprunp's Avatar
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    additional 'not'

    Might and might not in the permission sense are rare, occurring chiefly in polite questions:
    Might I (not) have a word with you?
    I wonder whether I might (not) have a word with you.

    A comprehensive grammar of the English language (Randolph Quirk) [1]

    Unfortunately I couldn't find information (although, I am sure [1] contains it) as to when and where (and with what modal verbs) I can use an 'additional not' and what tinge it gives to a sentence. I can surmise from [1] that it can occur in polite questions (and I'm confident that sometimes I have seen it used, although I can't provide you with a decent example now).

    Would you be so kind to help me with this issue?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Re: additional 'not'

    The simple answer is - Forget 'not'. If 'not' seems illogical to you, then it probably is to most native speakers. Such utterances are more natural without 'not'.

    A longer answer would involve a discussion on (pseudo-)diffidence in dated upper-middle-class English, which would be irrelevant to most learners today.

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: additional 'not'

    I could still use not if I were asking a big favour or pushing my luck.

  4. #4
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    Re: additional 'not'

    Might I not ask you another small question?

    I have recently encountered a sentence that looked like this:
    Could I not justifiably claim [...].

    Partly because
    Such utterances are more natural without 'not'.
    I had had a hard time working out what the author actually wanted to convey until I inquired what it really meant. In this case "could I not" was just another way of saying "couldn't I" and so "not" could be justifiably dispensed with.

    Another reason why I struggled with this sentence was that given the examples A comprehensive grammar of the English language (Randolph Quirk) gives us:
    I visit them not infrequently. = fairly frequently.
    He writes not inelegantly. = rather elegantly.
    I thought (somewhat unjustifiably, as turned out) that not could negate justifiably here.

    Is it possible to view this kind of sentences in the latter way, or should I always view "could I not" (and such) in similar cases as "couldn't I" or simply as "could I"?

    Thanks.

  5. #5
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    Re: additional 'not'

    Quote Originally Posted by suprunp View Post
    Is it possible to view this kind of sentences in the latter way, or should I always view "could I not" (and such) in similar cases as "couldn't I" or simply as "could I"?
    It depends on context.

    A: I think you'd better stay at home tonight.
    B: Could I not go?
    = Couldn't I go? (Could I go?) - I want to go.

    A: I really think you ought to go.
    B: Could/Couldn't I not go?
    = Is it possible for me not to go? - I don't want to go.

    A: You couldn't pass that test even if you studied for a year.
    B. Could I not? =
    Couldn't I? Could I?- You are wrong; I could.

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