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    #1

    can I say "May I not go?"

    Dear teachers,
    Although I have studied English for so many years, there are still too many confusing things I need to clear up.
    e.g.
    "May I go?" This sentence is easy, it is used to ask for permision to leave. but what about "May I not go?"? Can we use this sentence to express "May I stay?"
    Another question:
    "Can you speak in a lower voice?" This sentence is easy.but what about "Can you not speak so loudly?"? Can we use this sentence to express "Can you speak in a lower voice?"
    I really need your help. Please!
    yours,
    japanjapan

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: can I say "May I not go?"

    Quote Originally Posted by japanjapan View Post
    Dear teachers,
    Although I have studied English for so many years, there are still too many confusing things I need to clear up.
    e.g.
    "May I go?" This sentence is easy, it is used to ask for permision to leave. but what about "May I not go?"? Can we use this sentence to express "May I stay?"
    Another question:
    "Can you speak in a lower voice?" This sentence is easy.but what about "Can you not speak so loudly?"? Can we use this sentence to express "Can you speak in a lower voice?"
    I really need your help. Please!
    yours,
    japanjapan
    There doesn't seem to be any grammatical reason for not using "may I not go?" but I have never heard or seen it. "Can you not speak so loudly?" is fine.

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    #3

    Re: can I say "May I not go?"

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    There doesn't seem to be any grammatical reason for not using "may I not go?" but I have never heard or seen it. "Can you not speak so loudly?" is fine.
    My God, I think I will never understand it. You say "Can you not speak so loudly?" meaning "Do you have to speak so loudly?", right? So 'not' denies speak ("are you able to not speak so loudly"). After reading a whole lot about it I was quite sure that not after can denied can. Then, the meaning of your question would be: "are you unable to speak so loudly?"
    Is it merely a matter of custom or are there any rules on when 'not negates the auxiliary and when the main verb?

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: can I say "May I not go?"

    Quote Originally Posted by mmasny View Post
    My God, I think I will never understand it. You say "Can you not speak so loudly?" meaning "Do you have to speak so loudly?", right? So 'not' denies speak ("are you able to not speak so loudly"). After reading a whole lot about it I was quite sure that not after can denied can. Then, the meaning of your question would be: "are you unable to speak so loudly?"
    Is it merely a matter of custom or are there any rules on when 'not negates the auxiliary and when the main verb?
    In any case of using uncommon phrases, the context and intonation plays a large part in the meaning.
    Obviously, just seeing the words "Can you not speak so loudly?" should mean the same as "Can't you speak so loudly?"
    However, it will be obvious that it means [Can you][not speak so loudly ?] - in which not is emphasised - rather than [Can you not][speak so loudly?].
    I can't write the prosody well, but the rhythm and tone of the sentences are very different.

    Similarly:
    Will you not touch me like that? (Please don't touch me like that.)
    Will you not touch me like that? (Please do touch me like that.)
    Again, it depends entirely on how you say it.

    In most cases, a less ambiguous choice of words is made.

  3. BobK's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: can I say "May I not go?"

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    There doesn't seem to be any grammatical reason for not using "may I not go?" but I have never heard or seen it. "Can you not speak so loudly?" is fine.
    I can conceive of a situation in which one could say 'may I not go', but I think most speakers would turn it around - 'Must I go? Can't I stay?'

    b

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