About positive negatives use


Please take a look at the following example:

Let's see if we can't get there before they get back.

I'm pretty sure the sentence is grammatical and its semantic is quite similar to:

Let's see if we can get there before they get back.

But then what's the point of using the first version?

In my language the situation is similar and we use it as the speaker is giving the sentence extra emphasis by using the negative form.

Consequently, by checking if the opposite of one thing is impossible then the thing we want to do must be possible.

What about in English? Please let me know your thoughts on this.

Lucian Sava

Posted 2018-03-31T17:08:36.107

Reputation: 11 342

Nice question. I think it is a periphrasis for try which presents the possibility of failure as a challenge, to elicit best efforts. *Let's try hard to get there before they get back.* – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-03-31T17:12:20.770

So, a literary device, right, @Tᴚoɯɐuo ? – Lucian Sava – 2018-03-31T17:18:58.457

No, not literary. It's definitely colloquial. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-03-31T17:19:20.147

Oh, l see... @Tᴚoɯɐuo. – Lucian Sava – 2018-03-31T17:20:31.643

It is a way of inviting a "buy-in" to the goal. It might be paraphrased as "C'mon..." that is, "Come on". – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-03-31T17:21:46.210

It can also be a way of indicating that you intend to try your best. At a hotel check-in desk, the words Let's see if we can't find you a room would sound a shade better to the would-be guest than Let's see if we can find you a room. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-03-31T18:32:49.677

To me "let's see if we can't" is a matter of getting lost in the sentence and not parsing it properly. It sounds like "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less". – Green Grasso Holm – 2018-04-04T02:51:06.113

@GreenGrassoHolm, intriguingly, I thought it's a natural way in spoken English, exactly the way it's in my language. – Lucian Sava – 2018-04-04T09:29:54.807



It's trying to convey that you are going to be making the attempt that could fail but might not. They are saying we might as well try to beat the others to getting there first.


Posted 2018-03-31T17:08:36.107

Reputation: 687