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Is this a double negation? Is it still grammatically correct? If not, what is a better form?

He cannot go outside (legally, not physically), because he is under house arrest.

The meaning is that he is limited from going outside in a legal sense, but not in a physical sense.

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Hmm... it does seem odd: "I do not love him (romantically, not platonically) because he is a jerk." –  MrHen Mar 30 '11 at 18:27
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By the way, it's under house arrest, not on house arrest. –  Jimi Oke Mar 30 '11 at 18:50
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@Jimi Thanks! I corrected it. –  xdumaine Mar 30 '11 at 20:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The sentence reads correctly, but a bit clumsily because legally and physically are not bound. By that I mean, the negation makes sense, but I have trouble immediately understanding what you're referring to with "legally, not physically." You might consider:

He cannot go outside (legally speaking, but not physically), because he is on house arrest.

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+1 for adding the "speaking" for clarification. I'd actually rephrase the parenthesis as: (speaking legally, rather than physically) –  psmears Mar 30 '11 at 19:40
    
@psm I considered that because I was unsure if legally speaking would technically require a hyphen –  mfg Mar 30 '11 at 20:51
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No hyphen necessary :) Usually I'd say "legally speaking" would be slightly better than "speaking legally", but in this case I personally prefer the latter because it seems to bring out the contrast between "legally" and "physically" more clearly... –  psmears Mar 30 '11 at 20:57

Because the term house arrest already provides a great deal of context, it probably isn't even necessary to include the word physically. Perhaps try rephrasing with something like:

Legally, he is not permitted to go outside because he is on house arrest.

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I feel that this answer is not really answering the question but is simply addressing that particular sentence. It surely is awkward but what, exactly, is wrong with the form? –  MrHen Mar 30 '11 at 18:29
    
It does answer one of the three questions asked: "What is a better form?" Suggested use of parenthesis advises that they "contain material that could be omitted without destroying or altering the meaning of a sentence." In this case, however, it seems that author wishes to attach significance to the term legally, which proper use would suggest to be moved outside of the parenthesis. –  HaL Mar 30 '11 at 18:52
    
Ah, yes, true. –  MrHen Mar 30 '11 at 19:02

In legalese typically shall not is used. It avoids the ambiguity of the word can. May not would also seem to be appropriate.

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