The present article is not intended to contribute to the much- discussed theory of qualitative and quantitative negation started by the Czech grammarian Jan Gebauer and transmitted through V. Mourek, one of the first English scholars in this country, to the students of general philology in Germany and refused by O. Jespersen in his classical work Negation m English and Other Languages (Copenhagen, 1917). Justice has been done to the problem by Josef Vachek.1 Negation in English is one of the grammatical phenomena that cannot be forced into the strait-jacket of rules and prescriptions. Nor did Jespersen try to do this. He has most expressly stated that it is only tendencies in language that can be discussed, tendencies often contradictory, trying to hold their ground, with varying results.
Jespersen gives these tendencies in the use of negation, though he does not so term the last of them:
1. the general tendency to make negation accentually subordinate (entailing the use of additional and unmistakable pointer-signals, cf. French je ne le dis pas);
2. the natural tendency to place the negative first (which, combined with the first tendency, often leads to what he calls prosiopesis, i.e. the loss of the protracted negative);
3. the general tendency (in English?) to use nexal negation wherever it is possible (e.g. You mustn’t ever tell anybody anything at any cost. I don’t think he has come);
4. the tendency to attract the negative notion to any word that can easily be made negative (e.g. This will be no easy matter. We met nobody. — A tendency stronger in the literary language only, while in ordinary conversational language we say This won’t be an easy matter. We didn’t meet anybody);
5. whenever there is logically the possibility of attracting the negative element to either of two words, there seems to be a universal tendency to join it to the first (e.g., No one ever saw or Never did anyone see him angry, but not Any one never saw. . .);
6. the negation is attracted to conjuntions opening sentences (unless, lest/for fear, but that/what — if . . . not, in order that . . . not, which/who . . . not).
Jespersen’s propositions call for some comment. The first tendency is not so general as he thinks. In Czech not only is negation not accentually subordinate, but it is accentually superior to the word to which it is attached. Thus not only nobody = nikdo, but also unhappy and not happy, both = neãtastny, illegal = nezákonny, wasn’t = nebyl, etc. Only exceptional stress on the negatived idea may deprive the negative particle of its accentual superiority (ne silny, spile lstivy = not strong, but cunning; ni vi du, ni slechu = no sound or sign, lit. neither sight nor sound), which is, however, regained as soon as another word comes to help (ne tak silny, spfãe lstivy = more cunning than strong, lit. not so strong, rather cunning; ne svym pfiCingnfm, ale cizf pomoci- — not through-his-own work, but through-others’ help). — As regards the second tendency, it is well supported by Jespersen’s examples adduced from the field of word-formation as really prefixes are the main way of negativing words. Jespersen does not, however, mention suf- fixal negativing as in useless, nutzlos, staubfrei, so that we do not understand what force has been at work here to prevent the realization of the second tendency. It further seems that both these first-mentioned tendencies are applicable only with regard to what Jespersen calls special negation (old term “word negation”), because the German nicht, often unexpectedly cancelling the reality or truth of a lengthy statement, is the extreme example of the disregard of the second tendency, though no other tendency appears to be at work. — The preference of nexal negation, as stated in the third of Jespersen’s tendencies, seems to be well proved. And examples like You probably aren’t aware that. . . or don’t let us go clearly show that the tendency is stronger in English than are the demands of expression unambiguous even without any help of intonation (I didn’t go because I was afraid = the reason why I stayed was my fear, or = the reason why I went was not my fear), or logic, and that there has been, as in the case of don’t let us go, some development towards strengthening this tendency (older: let us not go).
At this juncture the colloquial never which “also in some connections comes to mean merely not” may be mentioned. Jespersen (op. cit., p. 17) instances the combinations “nevertheless” and “never a” = not a (esp. “never a word”) or, m dialects, = no. Though he points out the frequency of never = not in colloquial English, we miss such typical examples as never mind (or never you mind) and you never can tell. The word-order is here significant (as different from you can never tell). Similarly2 I never can see why (SB, 17) besides the more frequent I can’t see why. Double negation with not does not seem frequent in dialects using never = not (I can’t never ‘ave ?e_ back, zur r, BL, 36; I shouldn’ never presume. . . to. . ., BL, 40) nor the use of do (I did never think a man cud car e, BL, 25; But I diid never listen, BL, 26).
The tendencies (z) and (3) may, however, be easily combined, as regards English : In English there is a tendency to place the negative signal (particle or word) as early as possible. Word (or special) negation naturally cannot be separated from what it refers to, unless it is changed to nexal negation. Negative prefixes and suffixes (-less) are therefore placed as early as possible in complete accordance with this tendency, as the condition “as possible” infers the intangibility of the rules of word-formation. Actually, forms like don’t, doesn’t, isn’t, mustn’t, can’t, etc. are comparable with the type useless and we may accept the fact that even here the negative “suffix” is placed as early as possible. Besides useless we have inutile and unavailing, besides won’t we could put Old English nylle and the Old English ne in general. It is true, the adverb not is capable of much shifting. In questions with nexal negation, not obtains a very prominent position in colloquial English (Don’t you know her?). The literary Do you not know? is practically incompatible with the colloquial character of a question and can at the best only be treated as a deviation of a special style of language from the general tendency. In affirmative sentences the negative adverb cannot possibly precede the subject (Many of us did not want the war) or adverbial (Jack really doesn’t come so often now), as it would be equivalent to special negation (Not-many — Few of us wanted the war). On the other hand, the tendency often asserts itself even at the cost of clear expression (I don’t think so besides I think not), occasionally ousting the more logical way of speaking (don’t let us go, older let us not go; I did not come to send peace, but a sword, older I came not to send peace, but a sword) and sometimes it is only with the help of intonation that it is not ambiguous (I didn’t go because I was afraid). The verb, whose satellite the nexal negation is, can only move here and there, to point out the affirmative and interrogative character of the sentence. As soon as, in verbless sentences, nexal negation gets rid of the fetters tying it to the “hither-and-thither-ing” verb, out it flies to take a firm perch at the beginning of the sentence: Not that I believe him ! Not him (kdepak ten) !
On p. 43, Jespersen says, “There is scarcely any difference between ‘she isn’t happy’ and ‘she is unhappy’”. On Jespersen’s theory of the preference of nexal negation we should expect that the former would be the more usual expression, but this is not so. Special negation is abandoned in favour of nexal negation only if the tendency to bring the negative word nearer to the beginning of the sentence can.be satisfied without unduly endangering the sense. Here both “not” and “un-” occupy the same position. The sentence “ she isn’t happy” may have the same meaning as “ she լտ unhappy”, but its range is broader, in the sense that “happy” and “unhappy” are not necessarily contradictory terms (there may be an inter-quality, such as “indifferent”, “bored”). Hence we can say, “She isn’t happy, but she can’t be said to be unhappy either — she is bored and indifferent.” A sentence with լտ unhappy in the place of isn’t happy and not to be happy instead of to be unhappy would not make sense. This is what Jespersen finds only with very attached to happy or unhappy. The reason is that with very the existence of some intermediate qualities (those without “very” is expressly admitted.
The tendency towards placing the negative as early as possible is equally discoverable in Jespersen’s tendencies (5) and (6). This is what makes a sentence like Anyone never saw him angry impossible and a sentence like I also see no reason why. . . (instead of Nor do I see any reason why) clumsy and unidiomatic.
Thus we can reduce most of Jespersen’s tendencies to one: the tendency to place the negative signal as early as possibl Let us now consider tendency No. 4: to attract the negative notion to any word that can easily be made negative (p. 56). Jespersen is certainly right in declaring that it is in literary language rather than colloquial that this tendency predominates, “because it yields a more elegant expression. “ Besides pointing out that this is particularly common with need, he does not go far into this problem.
If the tendency to place the negative signal as early as possible overrides the tendency to attract the negation to a word that can easily be made negative, we find the word any (or a compound with any -) present in the sentence besides the negative adverb not. The indefinite article can often have the same value as any. Ever is equivalent to at any time. — If, however, the other tendency prevails, no (or a compound with no-) appears in the place of any (any-, or the indefinite article a[n] ). Never is of course the negative counterpart of ever. Let us for brevity’s sake call the first way of expression analytical, and the second, synthetic. Here are a few examples: I don’t see any change. — I see no change. Hasn’t she ever been invited here ? — Has she never been invited here ? Isn’t there a way out? — Is there no way out?
Let us first treat the special (or word) negation not. It can easily satisfy both tendencies. It is placed as early as possible. Being a word negation, it naturally cannot abandon the word it belongs to. Its place close before the word or sentence member is therefore the only one possible. Should it, however, negative an expression of universality (or indifference of application), it naturally coalesces with it: not anybody > nobody, not anything > nothing, not ever > never, not a(ny) > no. Or it coalesces with similar expressions belonging to the same sentence member as the negation: not any-man > no man. Consequently, no sentence can open with an expression like not any (—). If both the tendencies ruling the negation can be satisfied, they are satisfied. Examples: Nobody would have suffered (SB, 87), nothing shall ever hurt you again (Jo, 173), No West-End lydy wears anyfink at all in the e venin’ (F, 134), Nothing coming — never anything coming again — never anything (Fu, 18), no man was any good (FM, 63).2
Similarly, in existential constructions, we do not find not and any (—) closely following each other (there’s nothing you can tell me, S, 233), though there may be an any (—) in the rest of the sentence (there’s never anything in particular, Fu, 5; there’s no need to mention anything, SB, 66; There’s never been anything of the sort in the office, J, 25). The same applies to sentences with it լտ, etc. (it is no fault of ours, S, 236; I’m no orator, S, 239; Why, it’s nothing ! J, 93; It’s no use being sentimental ES, 46), and to sentences with have (they had no house, SB, 71; I’ve nothing to ask, SB, 78).
As soon, however, as there is a verb put earlier in the sentence, the negation, in accordance with the first tendency, is attached to it, in this way prevailing over tendency (2): we can’t have anybody just now, J, 28; I shan’t have any clothes on, F, 154; don’t let’s have any humbug, SG, 231. The same naturally happens in questions, where the verb be or have is placed first (Isn’t there anything you feel you’d like to say? , Fu, 36; Haven’t you any human sympathy? ES, 60; haven’t you any authority with these fellows? F, 98). Got and have got, meaning have, are often treated in the same way as have itself (I’ve got no home, SB, 71; I’ve got no money an’ no friends, SB, 85; They got no philosophy, W, 224).
The frequency of the synthetic form of negation with the verbs be and have (got) is so common that it often asserts itself when an auxiliary not particularly modifying the phrase is put before them: You shall have no need to ask, S 201; I’ll have no charity marriage, ES, 78; This’ll be no picnic, M, 8; It’ll be no friendliness, M, 3 7.
According to the two main tendencies governing the use of analytical and synthetic negation in English, analytical negation is used when it brings the negation nearer to the beginning of the sentence, but synthetic negation is preferred, if the negation could not be possibly moved further forward. There are often special developments with the verbs be and have, and the latter’s equivalents have got and got. The only exception to the prohibition of the use of analytic negation without gain of precedence seems to be the cases where it is not the forms with any- that are used, that is with a[n] and ever: he’s not a bad man really, SB, 18; Mine wouldn’t ever have been a profession but for them, E, 164; tisn’t ever kept locked, W, 239. Not a is of course quite natural, when a = one (not a penny).
The reason why not a, though not meaning not one, should not coalesce to no seems to result from the desire to keep it a- part from the no, which notionally, if not syntactically, functions as an adverbial modification of the idea contained in the following sentence member. Thus, He is no ordinary boy may have two meanings: (1) Ordinary boys don’t prefer work to play — Yes, but then he is no órdinary boy; (2) Jóhn is ոճ Ordinary boy. In the latter case it is the being ordinary that is negatived, while in the former, the being one of the ordinary boys. In the latter case we could say something like in no way, by no means (nik- terak) like in no little, no few. And it is only in the first sentence that no can be analyzed to not a[n] : Yes, but then he isn’t an ordinary boy.
The seemingly unnecessarily analytical not ever is perhaps supported by the desire to distinguish never, meaning at no time or occasion, from the purely colloquial never, being simply a negative adverb (=not). Thus, It’s never kept locked = It is not kept lo eked, It isn’t ever kept locked = It jj at no time kept locked.
Otherwise the not any (—) group is found only with a stressed verb: There isn’t anything in (unstressed: There’s nothing m), Fu, 36; Now, there àren’t any, P, 196; There fsn’t any, M, 12. When it is not the verb that is to be stressed, but just the idea expressed in a way capable of attracting negation, synthetic negation is preferred. We might say that the indefinite pronouns with any do not like to be stressed in negative contexts: We want none of you, ES, 78. Thus regularly nothing but: you do nothing but rave up and down, Jo, 132, who believes in nothing but. . ., SG, 185; It binds you to nothing but the abandonment of. . . , Fu, 70.
The occasional abandonment of these rules, or rather tendencies, in colloquial English seems to be due to the terseness of the synthetic form (frequent in proverbs — bad words break no bones, SG, 191, dead men tell no tales, L, 160 — or in the phrase no end), and since it enables the speaker to stress the negative term instead of stressing the verb, it is often used in deliberate statements. Notice the deliberate character of the Jew De Levis in ? with the following sentences put in his mouth: If a man can. . . , he’d make nothing of that, 143; If he’ll return, I’ll do nothing, 144; I ask nothing better than to be. . . , 145; I said nothing of the sort, 146; I’ll say nothing about it, 150; I will sign nothing, 173; I’ll give it no support, 203; I will take no money, 203.
The preposition without having lost its force, with no and similar combinations may be found in its place when the negative idea is to be stressed: _I can see that with half an eye. — You’ll see it with no eyes when I’m done with you, W, 291; You make this accusation on no proof, L, 157; do the maddest things for no mortal reason, L. 169.
Owing to its special force, nothing is sometimes found in colloquial English, as not. . . anything would never be so terse and strong: Say nothing at all ! SB, 132; The defendant said nothing, FM, 80; I withdraw nothing, S 265; I think nothing. _I understand nothing, ES, 44; he’s earning nothing, SB, 36; You saw nothing? FM, 130; I shall do nothing of the sort, Sh, 867; I know nothing of her, Sh, 869; I admit nothing against my son, Sh, 872.
The “approximative” negatives hardly and scarcely also follow the tendencies already described (He hardly thought of his father — but, He thought hardly [= severely, harshly, unkindly] of his father, he thought hard [= strenuously]). There is of course no opposition to placing hardly and scarcely close before ajn], any (—) or ever. In colloquial English, only also tends to be treated as a sort of negative and hence it is attracted to the beginning of the sentence: I’ve only got two, SB, 43; There can only be one master, S, 199; He was only there three weeks, J, 117; but I only woke up when the maid came in, E, 198.
In older than the latest Modern English, the tendency to prefer the synthetic negation appears to have been much stronger. Sentences like I turned aside to visit no objects of interest or I am ashamed to tell my name to no man, quoted by Jespersen, would be hardly possible nowadays. This older force of the tendency seems to survive in the American (and Scotch-Irish) preference of almost no (—) for hardly (or scarcely) any (—).
1. See Facultas philosophica Univ. Carolinae Pragensis, Pr ace z Védeckych usta vu 51, pp. 11 ff.
2. Our examples are drawn from a careful study of the usage in John Galsworthy’s dramatic works: BL, A Bit o’Love; 1915; Tauchnitz 4539, pp. 7 — 82; — E, Escape, An Episodic Play in a Prologue and Two Parts; 1926; Tauchnitz 4916, pp. 153 — 270; — ES, The Eldest Son, A Domestic Drama in Three Acts; 1909/12; Duckworth; — F, The Foundations, An Extravagant Play; 1917; v. BL, pp. 83—169; —FM, A Family Man; 1921; Tauchnitz 4576, pp. 9—109; — Fu, The Fugitive, A Play in Four Acts; 1913; Duckworth; — J, Justice, A Tragedy in Four Acts; 1910; Tauchnitz 4362, pp. 7—143; — Jo, Joy, A Play on the Letter „I”; 1907; Tauchnitz, 4372, pp. 91 —176;
*From Facultas philosophica univ. Carolinae Pragensis, Prace z ygdeckych ústavu, 51: 75- 84.