Negation 'Not active' vs. 'Inactive'

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Is it correct to say 'The account will remain not active'? Can we use 'not' in such a position in the sentence? Or is it better to say 'The account will remain inactive'? What grammar rule is applied here?

Eugenia Ovcharenko

Posted 2017-09-24T15:40:32.560

Reputation: 71

Answers

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I don't think there is a grammar rule as much as what is common. Both "not active" and "inactive" mean the same thing, but in this context the more natural expression is "inactive", simply because that's how native speakers talk.

Your account will be inactive [until you fix some problem]. I can then reactivate it for you.

In addition, it's common to use the negative version of adjectives with remain, rather than using "not":

The computer virus remained inactive until a particular user logged in, then it went to work.

The strange package remained unnoticed all morning, until Sally almost tripped over it while running through the hall.

The outcome of the election remained uncertain even as the final votes were being counted.

"Not" is more often used when talking about the current state of an object, especially if you want to emphasize that it is not in some (expected) state:

The computer virus was not active, at least not until the right user logged in.

The package was not opened, even though it was the children who found it first, and Sally was usually very curious about such things.

Andrew

Posted 2017-09-24T15:40:32.560

Reputation: 85 521

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Inactive is better. This is not a grammar point, but a matter of style.

Using "not" introduces an ambiguity, as it could be taken to mean "... will not remain active", a"different meaning entirely. In such a sentence using "remain not [adjective]" is rarely the best way to say something.

Say "remain inactive" instead of "remain not active". Say "remain unhappy" instead of remain not happy". If the adjective doesn't have a negation you may rephrase: Instead of "remain not red" say "still hasn't turned red" (or something similar depending on the exact meaning)

James K

Posted 2017-09-24T15:40:32.560

Reputation: 80 781

It's not only a matter of style; you can't "remain not adjective" at all. Nor can you "be not adjective", for that matter. It's comprehensible but sounds wrong. – Luke Sawczak – 2017-09-24T16:10:17.353

@Luke: I could say I remain not quite clear about the exact constraints here. Or a bank might refuse to back your business plan a second time because some details remain not fully costed. We seem to be more forgiving of the "awkwardness" if there's an *adverb* involved (quite, fully, very,...).

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-09-24T16:34:51.810

1@FumbleFingers I think "forgiving" is the operative word, but I agree with your observation. – Luke Sawczak – 2017-09-24T16:42:25.493

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"Inactive" is a better choice of words. It positively states what state the account will be in.

In most cases, we intuitively assume that "active" and "inactive" are the only two possible options. However, there are times where there are other cases. Consider the case of a system where an account may be "active," "inactive," or "pending." In such a case, "not active" could mean "inactive" or it could mean "pending." This sort of ambiguity comes up whenever we use a negative in our construction, and it is up to the listener/reader to determine whether there is a third option, like "pending" or not.

If you use a positive statement, "the account will remain inactive," it clears up any ambiguity that could arise.

Cort Ammon

Posted 2017-09-24T15:40:32.560

Reputation: 2 185

What about the following phrase: "If your plugin was not active when you did the update, it will remain not active"? Is there any difference in the meaning comparing to one mentioned first "The account will remain not active"? – Eugenia Ovcharenko – 2017-09-25T18:12:01.303

@EugeniaOvcharenko I suppose there are times where you might want that behavior. The meaning of the message you wrote is identical to that of "If your plugin was pending or inactive when you did the update, it will remain pending or inactive." (presuming there is a "pending" state) However, in such a case, it would be possible that updating changed the plugin state from pending to inactive, which might not be desired. It all matters whether the user needs to know the state of the account, or if all they need to know is what state the account is not in. – Cort Ammon – 2017-09-25T18:40:40.120

@EugeniaOvcharenko with your example I would still consider the best English phrasing to be "If your plugin was not active... it will remain inactive." If that phrasing would be inaccurate or misleading in any scenario, then the only good option is to entirely restructure the sentence, such as "Unless your plugin was active... it will not be active afterward." – Dan Henderson – 2017-10-01T03:12:56.687