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  1. 羡鱼-Xianyu's Avatar

    • Join Date: Jan 2010
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    #1

    Are there any differences?

    1.Can't he drive?
    Can he not drive?

    2.Isn't he a student?
    Is he not a student?

    3.Isn't it a fine day?
    Is it not a fine day?

    Dear all,
    Are there any differences between the above sentences? Could you help me clear my doubt up? Thanks in advance!

    Cheers!

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    #2

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Quote Originally Posted by 羡鱼-Xianyu View Post
    1.Can't he drive?
    Can he not drive?

    2.Isn't he a student?
    Is he not a student?

    3.Isn't it a fine day?
    Is it not a fine day?

    Dear all,
    Are there any differences between the above sentences? Could you help me clear my doubt up? Thanks in advance!

    Cheers!

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good morning, Xianyu.

    (1) Like you, I am eagerly awaiting an answer from one of the great teachers.

    (2) As we wait, may I share some views?

    (3) As a native speaker, I get the the sense that there IS a difference,

    but I cannot put my finger on it.

    (4) I checked my books, and this is what I found:

    (a) Of course, Isn't he a student? = informal.

    (b) Of course, Is he not a student? = formal.

    (c) The formal one is considered neutral in meaning.

    (d) the informal one sometimes implies a negative tone.

    (i) Why didn't you do the work? (You should have!) (Why did you not do the work? = does not have this negative sense)

    (a) This is a example from Mesdames Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman.

    (5) Let's look at your sentences "Isn't he a student?" and "Is he not a student?" (The following is only my opinion)

    (a) Maybe in many situations, either is correct.

    (b) Maybe (as the two ladies above pointed out) the contracted one could be a bit negative:

    Mrs. Smith: How is your son doing at the university ?

    Mr. Jones: OK. But he's a little upset.

    Mrs. Smith: About what?

    Mr. Jones: About all the required reading.

    Mrs. Smith: Isn't he a student? = Aren't students supposed to

    read a lot? Why is he complaining?

    Have a nice day!

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    #3

    Re: Are there any differences?

    No difference except as The Parser said, one is more formal than the other ("Is he not...") and seldom heard in AmE.

  2. 羡鱼-Xianyu's Avatar

    • Join Date: Jan 2010
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    #4

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Good morning, TheParser and billmcd. Thank you for your replies!

    I was told that:
    Can't he drive?= He can drive, can't he? (The asking person knows that HE is able to drive, but the asking one just wants to confirm that further and wants a positive answer, 'YES, HE CAN')
    Can he not drive?=The asking person actually doesn't know whether HE can drive or not. The asking one only wants to make sure.

    Does such saying make sense to you, native speakers?

    (After reading my grammar books, I created the followings. However, I'm not sure whether my understanding is right or not?)

    Isn't it a fine day?
    Let's say, on a SUNNY day, A wanted to invite B to go for a baubecue, but B was unwilling to and made an excuse:
    B:Oh, that's a good idea, but you see it looks as if it is going to rain!
    A:Isn't it a fine day? (In fact, it's sunny outside.)
    B:Er...

    Is it not a fine day?
    One morning, in a bedroom with a curtain closed, A was still in bed. Just then A heard B say: (A did not know what the weather was like.)
    B:It's raining again!
    A:Is it not a fine day?
    B:No, it isn't. We have to call off our picnic.

    Dear all, is my understanding right? Looking forward to everyone's reply!

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    #5

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Quote Originally Posted by 羡鱼-Xianyu View Post
    Good morning, TheParser and billmcd. Thank you for your replies!

    I was told that:
    Can't he drive?= He can drive, can't he? (The asking person knows that HE is able to drive, but the asking one just wants to confirm that further and wants a positive answer, 'YES, HE CAN')
    Can he not drive?=The asking person actually doesn't know whether HE can drive or not. The asking one only wants to make sure.

    Does such saying make sense to you, native speakers?

    (After reading my grammar books, I created the followings. However, I'm not sure whether my understanding is right or not?)

    Isn't it a fine day?
    Let's say, on a SUNNY day, A wanted to invite B to go for a baubecue, but B was unwilling to and made an excuse:
    B:Oh, that's a good idea, but you see it looks as if it is going to rain!
    A:Isn't it a fine day? (In fact, it's sunny outside.)
    B:Er...

    Is it not a fine day?
    One morning, in a bedroom with a curtain closed, A was still in bed. Just then A heard B say: (A did not know what the weather was like.)
    B:It's raining again!
    A:Is it not a fine day?
    B:No, it isn't. We have to call off our picnic.

    Dear all, is my understanding right? Looking forward to everyone's reply!
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good morning, Xianyu.

    (1) You have asked some great questions. Sadly, I don't feel qualified to

    answer them.

    (2) I shall, however, address the matter of so-called tag questions.

    (a) You are walking down the street in a Chinese city. You see someone who is not Chinese. You politely ask: Excuse me. You are a tourist, aren't you? = You think the answer is YES.

    (b) If the person says, "Yes, I am," you might then politely ask: "You don't speak Chinese, do you?" = You think the answer is NO.

    (i) The other person might answer:

    No, I don't.

    or

    Actually, I do. I am visiting your nice country to practice my Chinese.

    *****


    affirmative - negative = I think YES. (You love me, don't you?)

    negative - affirmative = I think NO. (You don't like me, do you?)

    Have a nice day!

  3. 羡鱼-Xianyu's Avatar

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    #6

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good morning, Xianyu.

    (1) You have asked some great questions. Sadly, I don't feel qualified to

    answer them.
    Hi TheParser,
    I can't go along with you on that, i'm afraid. Actually, you've given me many useful answers, and I've learnt a lot from you. Thank you so much!!

    Have a nice day!!

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    #7

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Quote Originally Posted by 羡鱼-Xianyu View Post
    1.Can't he drive?
    Can he not drive?

    2.Isn't he a student?
    Is he not a student?

    3.Isn't it a fine day?
    Is it not a fine day?

    Dear all,
    Are there any differences between the above sentences? Could you help me clear my doubt up? Thanks in advance!

    Cheers!
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Good morning, Xianyu.

    (1) I have a little more information.

    (2) An excellent teacher reminded me that non-contracted negative
    questions are often asked by lawyers in court.

    If you get a chance, watch how the lawyers ask questions in American
    TV or movies that feature courtroom scenes.

    For example (my very bad example!):

    Mr. Jones, you drove your car through the red light. Did you not see the red light, sir? (I think you did, sir.)

    ("Didn't you see the red light?" might be a little friendlier.)

    *****

    TESOL is an organization of teachers who teach English to speakers of other languages.

    One TESOL adviser in an article posted on the Web said that the non-contracted negative question is:

    (a) formal.

    (b) stodgy (old-fashioned) (in the opinion of many native speakers).

    (c) sarcastic sometimes.

    The adviser said that learners should be careful before they use it.

    *****

    Like you, I am waiting for someone to give us an authoritative answer to your excellent question.



    P. S. That TESOL adviser said that many English teachers never think about this matter until an excellent student like you asks that question.

    Have a nice day!

    *****

    P. P. S. I also learned that your "Isn't it a fine day?" is not always a question.

    Suppose you go outside and look at the sky. You then say with appreciation: Wow! Isn't it a fine day!!!

    The books call that an exclamation (showing emotion). It is just another way to say: It is a fine day!

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    #8

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Is the Pope Catholic?

    Is the sky blue?

    Does a duck with one leg swim in a circle?


    The above rhetorical questions are posed to assert the (obvious) affirmative in answer to a question.

    The "Can he not drive?" functions similarly and differs from the "straight", "Can't he drive?" question, except, I would call it semi-rhetorical in nature. It is like a redundant question where the outcome or situation is known but the question is asked anyway to cast doubt, to disapprove or to gauge reaction.

    The "not" construction of a question is in widespread use in the UK, and in countries where irony and humour are generally better understood.

  4. 羡鱼-Xianyu's Avatar

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    #9

    Re: Are there any differences?

    Thanks, everybody, for your useful help!

    I will keep an eye on them and carefully experience their differences later.

  5. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #10

    Re: Are there any differences?

    As a BrE speaker, I was trying to find any subtle difference between my use of the two different constructions. Much of the time, I think they're interchangeable but I did come up with one example:

    A friend says to me "Peter is going to London on Saturday but of course he has to go on the train".

    I don't know why he has to go on the train so I would ask a question to try to find out.

    Question 1 - "Can he not drive?" By this I would probably mean "Does he not have a driving licence?" (is he legally not able to drive?)

    or

    Question 2 - "Can't he drive?" This would mean "Is there some reason why he can't go by car that day?" For instance, has his car broken down? Is someone else using the car that day?

    I can't honestly say that this is a hard and fast rule that I would stick to.

    As far as the original examples go, I would probably hear a slightly different meaning:

    Isn't it a nice day?! - This is an exclamation - you have looked out the window, or been outside and discovered that the weather is beautiful so you say this, as a somewhat rhetorical question.

    Is it not a nice day? - You thought it was a nice day but then someone else told you that they had just come in and it was now raining. You would say "Oh, is it not a nice day (any more)?" as a result.

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