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They both expand to "there is not" but for some reason "There's not" sounds indescribably uncomfortable for most situations. Can anyone elucidate why this might be? Or am I wrong?

EDIT: Let me provide an example to see if anyone agrees.

  1. There's not anyone there.
  2. There isn't anyone there.

Number 1 doesn't sound wonky to you?

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4  
Yes, you’re wrong, but there’s not a lot I can do to persuade you of this. :) –  tchrist May 13 '12 at 19:30
    
See my edit for an example that might bolster the case for my sanity –  Travis Webb May 13 '12 at 20:29
    
I'm saying these out loud. Maybe it's more difficult to enunciate a softer 't' (in 'not') in the middle of a sentence than it is for a harder 't' (in 'isn't'). I'm realizing that, either way, this question might be unanswerable. –  Travis Webb May 13 '12 at 20:37
1  
But don’t you think that “not anyone” should be “no one”? –  tchrist May 13 '12 at 21:06

5 Answers 5

You might think there's a good reason for this, but there isn't. You said:

"There's not" sounds indescribably uncomfortable for most situations.

Are you sure that most doesn't mean, "for most situations I can think of off the top of my head right now"? I don't think most is a good word, but I might accept many – particularly if you mean, "for many situations where I use it in my first drafts."

As to "elucidating why this might be," perhaps it's because "there's not" might sound much improved if expanded to "there's no X", or if the sentence was restructured altogether:

You might think there's a good reason for this, but there's not.
You might think there's a good reason for this, but there's no good reason.
There's no good reason for this.

There's not any baseball player who went hitless for more than 40 games.
There isn't any baseball player who went hitless for more than 40 games.
No baseball player has gone hitless for more than 40 games.

There's not anyone there.
There isn't anyone there.
No one's there.

But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of situations where the phrase works just fine:

"Are you crazy? We can barely meet our payrolls as it is! There's not enough work for the men we've got now!" (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

"For the moment, though, suppose there's not just one, but two experiences here, each tactilely experiencing quite differently from the other. (Peter Unger, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics v. 1)

I don't think "there isn't" would improve either of those.

The issue is not whether "there's not" sounds more "wonky" than "there isn't", particularly for a single case. Remember:

"There isn't any single essence that binds all uses of language together." (Bryan McGee)

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To be fair to the O.P., an Ngram shows "there isn't" seems to be preferred over "there's not," so there might be some merit to the assertion that one seems more awkward than the other in certain situations. But I stand by my answer: there are times when either would beg for improvement, and other situations where either works just fine. –  J.R. May 14 '12 at 10:08

My guess is because in case 1:

There's not anyone there.

We would much rather say:

Nobody is there

or

Nobody's there

Since it's shorter and less ambiguous(i.e., I may mishear and think you said something different like "there is one there" )

But if said aloud, "there isn't anyone" rolls off the tongue better than " There's not anyone" -- similar to how people tend to say "should have went" when "should have gone" is the correct option. Or we often say "this'll be good" versus "this will/shall be good" - somewhat lazy tongues.

Google shows that the phrase "there's not" may be an older and more formal construction 38,000,000 hits vs 477,000,000 for "isn't"

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2  
Nice job using Google as the arbiter :) –  Travis Webb May 13 '12 at 21:05
2  
You dodge the question completely. Why would you not say "there's not anyone there"? (Of course it can be reworded/misheard, but so can anything.) Why does "there isn't anyone" roll off the tongue better? (And what does that even mean? Of course it rolls off the tongue better if it is grammatical and the other one is not. And of course Google will reflect that.) Rather than answering the question, you raise new ones. And then you even drag "should have went" into this, which is perfectly grammatical in certain dialects and has nothing to do with the question at hand. -1 from me, sorry. –  RegDwigнt May 13 '12 at 22:23

It depends on the state you are trying to describe.

"There's not a single person here" is saying that [exists] [state of not a single person here]

"There isn't a single person here" is saying that [does not exist] [state of people being here]

Which one you choose is largely a matter of euphony.

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In playwriting I try to stay away from "there's not" (or "it's not") for one simple reason: Spoken aloud it often sounds like "there snot." So, fellow playwrights and performance poets, listen to Lady Macbeth: "Out, damn'd snot! out, I say!"

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You mean Lady Scottish Play. youtube.com/watch?v=h--HR7PWfp0 –  MετάEd Sep 2 '12 at 7:38

You are on the right track but you don’t see the whole picture, so to say.

The reason why example (1) sounds “wonky” to you is because of “not any” and not because of “there’s not.”

While “not” is used with all verbs, with other words its distribution is somewhat limited:

not all, not every, not many, not much, not often

BUT: *not both, *not each, *not most, *not some (HP 2002: 808)

To answer your specific question, I’ll quote the following passage from the Cambridge grammar of the English language:

Not any is of doubtful acceptability. Normally one would instead use no or none, as in None of her friends had supported her, but not any is marginally acceptable as an emphatic alternant: ?Not any of her friends had supported her” (Huddleston and Pullum 2002: 808).

This rule applies to anyone, anybody, anything etc. see ngrams

NB: This rule applies to "not any (anyone, anybody, etc.)", with the full, uncontracted "not."

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