When do multiple negatives cancel and when do they not?



Which of the following is not stated in the passage?
(a) Money will not be a factor in making the decision

Here, not only is there a negative in the question, but there is also one in answer (a). It is important not to miss the second one, and also important not to simply think that they cancel each other out. It does not, for example, follow from (a) that what is being said is that ‘money is stated in the passage to be a factor in making the decision’.

I apprehend that silence isn't guilt (in most developed nations), so the absence of (a) in the passage doesn't mean the truth of (a). Yet what's the big picture here; what are the general lessons to be learned? I'd like to cancel, to simplify reading whenever possible.

Source: p 27, Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law, Mark Shepherd


Posted 2014-09-05T08:22:56.247

Reputation: 8 167

3This is basically about reasoning. (I would argue that it's not about any specific language.) From what I glanced through, the author seems to warn the reader to avoid concluding things imprecisely. For example, if I said, "We can use this book as a doorstop," it doesn't mean that I asserted that the book can't be used for any other purposes. – Damkerng T. – 2014-09-05T09:04:13.653

@DamkerngT. Thanks, but would you please enlarge on about reasoning'? What kind? What's this called? How can I learn more about this? Any resources? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-06T20:50:46.470

If you asked me what kind of reasoning, I would say "verbal reasoning test" because it's the first thing came to my mind. You can try searching for this term on the web. Many tests such as GRE and GMAT will include this kind of question in their tests. – Damkerng T. – 2015-02-06T20:55:09.170

@DamkerngT. Thank you. I'll research them, but what's the underlying subject or skill? Is it just 'verbal reasoning' ? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-06T21:07:57.557

Informally, I think, on one hand, we need to be able to understand text in the language it's written; on the other hand, we need to think of what's written logically. (Hence, the term "reasoning".) I think we don't really need to study logic formally in order to master verbal reasoning. (Though it could be helpful.) In case it might be useful, syllogism is one of the most commonly found reasoning in these exams, in my opinion. – Damkerng T. – 2015-02-06T21:20:48.220

@DamkerngT. Thanks. Sorry, I forgot to respond. Which branches of logic 'could be helpful'? Or were you thinking of verbal reasoning books? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-22T22:12:17.347


Don't worry! I didn't expect any reply; I just wanted to add useful information. You're right. I was thinking about the verbal reasoning in those tests (GMAT in particular, actually). I searched a bit more and I think I like this course outline for general verbal reasoning. For something geared toward legal reasoning, this looks really good: Critical and Legal Reasoning.

– Damkerng T. – 2015-02-22T23:21:42.103

+1 @DamkerngT. Thank you effusively! Please feel free to unite all your comments into an answer, for which I'll merrily upvote! – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-22T23:25:49.243



Negatives 'cancel' when one lies within the scope of the other.

John is not unaware of your problem, but he is uninterested in it.

Here not has scope over the first predication John is unaware of your problem, which includes the negative un-. Consequently not and un- 'cancel', yielding

John is aware of your problem ...

However, but he is uninterested in it is a distinct clause—a distinct predication. Not does not have scope over this predication, and there is no 'cancellation' with the un- of uninterested.

... but he is uninterested in it.

You may paraphrase

John is aware of your problem but uninterested in it.

In your example neither negative has scope over the other; they refer to distinct predications. The negative in the question has scope over the predication X is stated in the passage. The negative in answer a) has scope over the predication Money is a factor in the decision. They have distinct scopes, and consequently there is no cancellation.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2014-09-05T08:22:56.247

Reputation: 176 469

+1. Sorry to bother you again, but would you please also advise on: How can I learn about and delve into 'cancellations', 'predications', 'scopes'? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-22T22:54:49.530

My crisis with negatives continues to plague me: http://ell.stackexchange.com/q/51371/8712

– AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-22T22:55:25.367

1@LawArea51Proposal-Commit CGEL has an entire chapter on negation which is well worth reading. But allow me to ask: do you have difficulty following texts of this sort in French? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-02-23T00:20:30.617

Thank you for your reply. I'm unsure if 'allow me to ask' implied some hesitation to ask, but in the future, please feel free to ask me any question! I'm not easily offended. Anyhow, to be fair, I don't know because I haven't read complex French texts of this sort, though I should. Were you thinking of a particular work? For future readers' reference, CGEL = Cambridge Grammar of English Language. – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-23T02:19:44.270

1@LawArea51Proposal-Commit: I thought that might be the case: your problem isn't with English per se but with the structures of complex discourse. I suggest working on this from both sides at once, English and French. I seem to recall that the EU maintains somewhere an online database of bureaucratic and legal texts with their official translations. Reading those in parallel might help you. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-02-23T12:31:58.517

Thank you again. I try CGEL first. Please feel free to advise me on any other books or sources, in the future. – AYX.CLDR – 2015-02-23T13:43:35.650