Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've recently been told that "I don't think so" is, in the U.S.A., a southernism, whereas "I think not" is considered more acceptable everywhere else. Is this true?

Example:

Q: Is your wrist broken?
A: I don't think so. / I think not.

share|improve this question
1  
My impression was that "I don't think so" is an Americanism and "I think not" a Briticism. However, Google Ngrams disagrees; there isn't much difference in usage in the British and American Ngrams. –  Peter Shor Feb 4 '12 at 23:46

2 Answers 2

I think not! In British English, I don't think so. and I think not. are both used, although they have different nuances.

I don't think so. is more common, and shows a little diffidence or uncertainty.

A: Is it going to rain today?

B: I don't think so. I'd just wear a t-shirt if I were you.

I think not. is used to disagree emphatically.

A: You still owe me.

B: I think not! If I hear any more from you about this, you'll be hearing from my solicitor.

Sorry, but I don't have any references I can cite. Just my personal experience.

share|improve this answer
    
I think not! The only reason that form seems more "emphatic" is because it's dated/format, so it calls more attention to the fact of disagreement. In common relaxed parlance, "I don't think so" often occurs in contexts where we're trying to downplay the disjunct (i.e. - we don't want to come right out and say "I disagree"). –  FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 16:07
    
I'm confused. You wrote "I think not!" but you seem to be agreeing with me! I wrote diffidence and uncertainty: you wrote downplay the disjunct. Where's the difference? I wrote that I think not. is less common and is used to disagree emphatically: you wrote that it is dated and calls more attention to the fact of disagreement. Again, where's the difference? –  Pitarou Feb 6 '12 at 8:07
    
On reflection I probably got carried away there. All I meant was that in and of themselves the two forms don't carry different meanings - it's just that the "dated/formal" one is more likely to be used only in certain situations. Often for emphasis, sometimes light-heartedly. I'll leave the first comment there because I still stand by that reasoning, but I fully accept it doesn't conflict with your answer (which I now somewhat belatedly upvote! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 13:35

I think not is a formal way of saying no. It's often used in parody, faux and overly dramatic situations, to heighten the negation and introduce a sense of inadequacy, foolishness and insignificance.

share|improve this answer
    
What about "I don't think so"? –  Alenanno Feb 4 '12 at 22:59
    
Have you any evidence for these claims? –  jwpat7 Feb 4 '12 at 23:00
    
@jwpat7: NGram doesn't handle apostrophes well, but in Google Books "I don't think so" outweighs "I do not think so" about 3:1. And "I think not", which used to be more common, is now perceived as archaic/stilted/formal. So effectively, Andrew is correct here. –  FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 16:02

protected by tchrist Apr 6 at 20:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.