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Is it incorrect to use the positive/negative construction when the intent is positive/positive? In other words can these two statements be viewed as equivalent:

Mangoes are sweet and so aren't papayas.
Mangoes are sweet and so are papayas.

When I mean so is, I say so isn't. When I mean so are, I say so aren't, etc.

Is this a regional quirk? I regularly speak this way, and I believe my wife is the first to have ever questioned it (I'm 55 years old). I happen to be from Northern NY near the Canadian border.

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If I reply that I haven't heard of this construction, how do I know that you won't interpret that that as me saying that I have? This would become very amusing in settings like, say, operating rooms. –  JeffSahol Jun 18 '11 at 15:47
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There are some similar constructs which are accepted "Mangoes are sweet. Aren't papayas also?" but I've never heard your particular usage and I would consider it wrong (and distracting). –  Ben Voigt Jun 18 '11 at 16:43
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Not a native speaker but have been heavily exposed to UK/US/AU English and I'm perplexed. –  mplungjan Jun 18 '11 at 16:53
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“Aren’t” can often be a positive assertion, when it’s in a rhetorical question: “Aren’t papayas sweet?”, with the right intonation, can assert that they are. So something like “Mangoes are sweet, and aren’t papayas too?” could sound borderline natural to me. That’s the nearest thing I can think of to your example, in my idiolect… –  PLL Jun 18 '11 at 21:04
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6 Answers

Taking the descriptivist approach: it's correct if it communicates what you mean without jarring the listener.

Personal experiences:

I've never heard it done that way sincerely (speaking British English), so it could be a regional thing. Can you find any examples from your local media?

I've occasionally heard it used that way as humour - the first part is misdirection, saying something that the speaker thinks that the listener expects to hear, and them wrong-footing them with the latter negation, thus undermining the first part. Analogously:

A: "Are you in work at the moment?"

B: "I'm writing a book"

A: "Neither am I"

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"Are you in work" is jarring in and of itself. –  Ben Voigt Jun 18 '11 at 16:44
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It's not jarring in British English –  EnergyNumbers Jun 18 '11 at 21:13
    
So is the reverse true? I would say "Are you at work?" or "Are you working?, do those sound weird to you? –  Ben Voigt Jun 18 '11 at 21:25
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To clarify: "are you in work at the moment?" means "do you currently have a job (or some other type of paid work)?" Whereas "Are you at work?" would mean "Are you at your office / factory / normal place of work right now?". –  EnergyNumbers Jun 18 '11 at 21:39
    
Exactly right. I misunderstood your example then, for which I would say "Are you employed?" –  Ben Voigt Jun 18 '11 at 21:49
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(Edited due to my misunderstanding of the question.)

I've seen it used by Douglas Adams in the opposite sense in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to great comedic effect . For example:

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

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The use here is the word 'not' to express a negative. The use by the OP is the 'not' as positive (or as a null meaning thing). –  Mitch Jun 18 '11 at 20:45
    
brilliant, one of my (many) favourite lines from the book! :) –  Joe Blow Jun 18 '11 at 20:45
    
+1 simply for quoting Adams –  snumpy Jun 18 '11 at 21:20
    
@Mitch Ah, right you are. I misunderstood the OP. –  Matthew Frederick Jun 19 '11 at 1:29
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@snumpy: That is a really crappy reason to upvote an answer. –  MrHen Jun 19 '11 at 14:46
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The only legitimate way I can see to use a sentence like

Mangoes are sweet and so aren't papayas.

is if you are intentionally trying to be funny. The first five words set up the expectation that you are going to say the same thing about papayas that you did about mangoes ... except you don't. The effect would be jarring to the ear and would cause the listener to reframe the statement so that it makes sense in a different way from what was anticipated. This is called paraprosdokian, which you can read about in an answer to a different question from a while back.

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You may sometimes hear in English something like:

Mangoes are sweet in the same way that papayas aren't.

There was a construction by the author Douglas Adams, which is now very well known to science-fiction fans:

The [space]ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

The humour comes from the unexpected negation at the end of the phrase. There's probably a Greek word for this technique.

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I've heard it, mostly as:

So don't I.

For which you'll find a lot of search results. It seems to be peculiar to the Northeast, including upstate New York and southern New England. The other answers seem to miss:

  • It's pretty much only ever used with so.

  • It's not a question.

  • It's not a misdirection.

I think we want it to make more logical sense than it does, but it's just dialectical.

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Yep, I've never heard this in the UK. Because it's pretty much the opposite of normal usage, I'd be surprised if there are many other dialects that have this usage. –  Marcin Jun 18 '11 at 23:42
    
That's right Jon. I virtually never say "so do I" but "so don't I" as well as "so aren't I," "aren't you at work," etc. Only one person has ever questioned this construction, my wife who is from Puerto Rico. It may sound peculiar in text but it doesn't spoken. Thanks for the feedback. –  Phil Mason Jun 19 '11 at 3:39
    
I think you want dialectal, not dialectic. –  MT_Head Jun 19 '11 at 22:56
    
@MT_Head: Sigh. Natural language. I should use Lojban or something. –  Jon Purdy Jun 20 '11 at 4:01
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I've heard people from Massachusetts say "so aren't I" in the content of saying "so am I". ("I'm really hungry!" "so aren't I!") But mainly I've only heard little tough kids use it, and no grown-ups. It must be some kind of slang, used as emphasis.

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