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What does the phrase/expression "I cannot but totally agree" mean?

The sentence was said after Person A had praised Person B.

I understand that Person B is completely agreeing with what Person A said. But Why is cannot used at the start? What does it signify?

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

But here means 'except': I can do nothing except totally agree.

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Does that cannot mean that the person telling that sentence cannot do what Person B had done, but he agrees with what Person A said? –  Venkatesh Kumar Jun 1 '12 at 6:59
    
@VenkateshKumar: Yes, it means that the speaker agrees with A. –  Barrie England Jun 1 '12 at 7:08
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@VenkateshKumar- the cannot does not mean anything about whether the speaker could have also done what Person B did. It means that the speaker cannot disagree with what A said- he has no choice except to agree. –  Jim Jun 1 '12 at 7:18
    
@Jim: Thanks... –  Venkatesh Kumar Jun 1 '12 at 7:27
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Do you remember your Math classes at school when multiplying two negative numbers you get positive answer. It is the same here. I have googled about more information and I have found that that is called Negative Polarity (the grammatical character of a word or phrase, such as ever or any, that may normally only be used in a semantically or syntactically negative or interrogative context ).

The full phrase is cannot help but do something and it is formal. You can make it less formal omitting help or using can't instead of cannot.

Similar idiom is I am forced to something, though . Example: I am forced to the conclusion that Fred is guilty, though I'd rather not believe it .

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I cannot (disagree with you) but totally agree

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You will not disbelieve me that I have just given another epitome of negative polarity in this sentence you are reading, for clearer understanding about the phrase "cannot but". "Not disbelieve" and "cannot but" are good examples of negative polarity.

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