How to confine the negative scope?



She is not beautiful.

There are two explanations:

  1. It is a negative sentence. She/ is not / beautiful.
    "not" is an adverb which modifies "is";

  2. It is an affirmative sentence. She/ is /not beautiful.

    "not" is an adverb which modifies "beautiful";

I want to know more about the negative scope in the sentence and how to judge its negative sentence.


Posted 2014-02-11T03:52:42.400

Reputation: 4 786


Well this stack is to help people trying to learn English, but you have to stop being lazy. Please see this Wikipedia article on negation and affirmative sentences, and trust me, it is very detailed. I am sure you will get your answer if you read the article. Next thing is, She/is/not beautiful is still negative.

– NANDAGOPAL – 2014-02-26T16:34:07.233

Which one do you think is correct? (And I ask all the responders this.) X said, "Z isn't very smart." Then Y said... a) "She is not beautiful, too." or b) "She is not beautiful, either." – Damkerng T. – 2014-03-10T16:35:45.317



I think this question is an exercise of bikeshedding, but I can't help myself playing logic riddles.

Both your sentences are grammatically correct. In fact, both are written the same:

  1. She is not beautiful
  2. She is not beautiful

Furthermore, both sentences have the same meaning. The only potential difference that I can imagine is in the intonation by a conscious speaker.

What is the cause of this ambiguity? It is the result of the unusual properties of the adverb "not":

  • the adverb "not" precedes the adjective it modifies (not + adjective)
  • the adverb "not" follows the auxiliary verb it modifies (auxiliary verb + not)

Is it possible to generate this kind of ambiguity using a full verb? This kind of ambiguity is not possible because only an auxiliary verb can be modified directly by the adverb "not". If we try to do the same trick with a full lexical verb, we end up with:

  1. She does not look beautiful
  2. She looks not beautiful

And it is clear what word is modified by the adverb "not".

Is it possible to generate this kind of ambiguity using other adverbs? Yes, it is:

  1. My dreams become always true
  2. My dreams become always true



Posted 2014-02-11T03:52:42.400

Reputation: 2 540


If I had to ask someone about her, I would ask "How is she?" I would not ask "How is she not?" A cursory answer to my query "How is she?" would be "not beautiful". Hence, I consider 'not' to be an attribute of 'beautiful' and not 'is'.

Your second interpretation is correct.

Neil D'Silva

Posted 2014-02-11T03:52:42.400

Reputation: 960


Your first interpretation is correct.

She is not [beautiful]

And affirmative sentence with (more or less!) the same meaning would be

She is ugly.

In some cases, you can change the meaning of a sentence by applying not differently:

I try not to be late.

I am actually doing my best to make sure I am not late.

I do not try to be late.

I am not trying anything. If I am late or not, it is not because I tried for it.


Posted 2014-02-11T03:52:42.400

Reputation: 24 925