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“Don't you want to know how Ginny got hold of that diary, Mr. Malfoy?” said Harry.

Lucius Malfoy rounded on him.

“How should I know how the stupid little girl got hold of it?” he said.

“Because you gave it to her,” said Harry. “In Flourish and Blotts. You picked up her old Transfiguration book and slipped the diary inside it, didn't you?”

(Harry Potter 2, p336, US edition)

Some people say that negative question has a connotation of accusation, but I’m not sure. I’d be happy if you could explain the following points.

  1. Is Harry accusing Lucius Malfoy?
  2. What is the radical difference between “Do you want to know” and “Don’t you want to know”?
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For question 2, I get the feeling that "do you want to know" is simply asking (non-confrontational), while "don't you want to know" seems to imply an expectation that Lucius would want to know (confrontational). –  Randolf Richardson May 25 '11 at 6:57
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@Randolf Richardson Thank you for your helpful answer! –  user7493 May 27 '11 at 5:06
    
You're welcome! Since you consider that to be an answer, I'll re-post it as such. –  Randolf Richardson May 27 '11 at 5:20
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

You use don't you when you believe that the person you're speaking to would or should do the verb that follows. It can be accusatory:

"Don't you care how much you're hurting her?"

but it doesn't have to be. Another use is when you're surprised or incredulous:

"Don't you want the rest of your ice cream?"

Harry is using it more this way. He does have an accusation later, but the don't you isn't about whether Malfoy would or should know how she got the diary, it's about him wanting to know.

Generally you use do you when you have no assumption about the answer, no "would" or "should":

"Do you like dogs?"

I'm sure some other answerer will have a formal way of describing this, but this is my sense of how you choose between them.

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That explains it all! Thank you! –  user7493 May 27 '11 at 5:07
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For question 2, I get the feeling that "do you want to know" is simply asking (non-confrontational), while "don't you want to know" seems to imply an expectation that Lucius would want to know (confrontational).

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