Negative Raising (Shifted or Transferred Negation)

When we express negative ideas with verbs like think, believe, etc., we prefer to make the first verb negative instead of the second. We shift or transfer the negative from the second verb to the first. Take, for example, the following sentence:

I think John isn't coming to the party.

Although this sentence is correct, it sounds strange to native speakers. We prefer to move (shift or transfer) the negative to the preceding verb:

I don't think John is coming to the party.

Verbs used like this include believe, expect, seem, suppose, think, and want.

Study the following examples:

We usually say:We do NOT usually say:
I don't think he's coming.I think he's not coming.
I don't believe he's coming.I believe he's not coming.
I don't suppose he's coming.I suppose he's not coming.
I don't want him to come.I want him not to come.
I don't expect him to come.I expect him not to come.
He doesn't seem to like it.He seems not to like it.

Exceptions to negative raising

Surprise is often expressed without shifting the negative1:

I thought you wouldn't get here on time!
I thought you'd never get here on time!
I thought you weren't coming!

Negative raising is not used with hope2:

I hope he doesn't come.

Negative raising is preferred in informal style with verbs that are followed by an infinitive3:

He doesn't seem to understand.
I don't expect to be back before Monday.
I don't want to miss the concert tonight.
I never intend to come back here.

1, 2, 3Michael Swan, §359, "negative structures (2): transferred negation," Practical English Usage, pp. 354--55

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This page was last modified on 06/15/10

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