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This is a quote from a Gwyneth Paltrow interview where she talks about her miscarriage:

"It was awful," she told the Daily Mail's You magazine. "It happened really late, and I wasn't expecting it at all.

"For a long time I just couldn't understand that it had happened and why. I was like 'But I can't not be pregnant. I'm already past the first trimester, and I have three car seats in my head.' To this day I feel like I'm missing that kid. But it wasn't meant to be and you have to trust the universe. "

What does she mean by saying "I can't not be pregnant?" Is this "can't not" construction a grammatical and common usage?

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possible duplicate of Are double negatives ever appropriate in English? –  tchrist May 18 at 3:58
4  
Yes, it’s grammatical, and no, it’s if not exactly common certainly not particularly uncommon. It serves a distinct purpose. –  tchrist May 18 at 4:08
    
Time to return and accept the answer. –  mplungjan Jun 24 at 12:28

4 Answers 4

It is perfectly grammatical and common, yes. It means precisely what the sum of its parts means, "[can not] [not X]". In this particular context, Ms Paltrow refused to accept that she was no longer pregnant.

The construction is exactly as common as the thought it expresses, no more, no less. If you want to say "can't not", then that's what you say. The British National Corpus has 16 cites for "can't not" and the Corpus of Contemporary American English has 91, across all registers and contexts. That is of course less common than "red car", say. But it is much more common that "lilac car".

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I can't not be pregnant

is grammatical. It means she lost the baby but cannot accept this painful fact.

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I can't not be pregnant indeed is grammatical.

It means something along the lines of It's impossible that I'm not pregnant [=it can't possibly be true].

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  • I wish to be absent from work, but I can't be absent from work.
  • I hope I will not be at work on World Cup Final, but I can't not be at work.
  • I do not want to take my medication. But I can't not want to take my medication, if I wish to get well.

I am not pregnant anymore. I've lost the baby. That is depresssing because I can't "not be pregnant anymore". I have already invested so much in having a baby emotionally and materially. Look at all the baby clothes and shoes I have bought. Look at this cute set of toddler hoodies he would wear at two years old. He was going to create a mess and a ruckus and I would cheer him on.

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