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Consider this conversation:

— Iceland has more than 200 rainy days per year.
— Are you sure?
— No, I am not sure.

Is it valid or wrong English to say,

— No, sure I am not.

...in the last sentence?

I am German native speaker and in German both versions ("Nein, ich bin nicht sicher"/"Nein, sicher bin ich nicht") would be valid. The latter version is probably even preferred because that puts emphasis on the sure, as in "I do think that's how it is, but I don't know for a fact".

(It's impossible though to use the second version in an affirmation in German "Ja, sicher bin ich." This sounds like Yoda-speak, much like the English equivalent "Yes, sure I am.")

Edit.

If I would know the grammar of my own language better I could have asked: "Is (sentence) inversion allowed in English grammar?". The second German version above falls under the rule of (Sentence) Inversion and the English translations in the linked article and all answers to my question indicate that such an inversion is not allowed in the English language.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

No, it is not valid (well, natural) English to say or to write:

  • No, ∗sure I am not.

It would be understood, but it doesn’t sound at all right. It would mark you as a non-native speaker.

The closest to what you are talking about would be the very archaic and/or poetic-sounding full inversion:

  • No, sure am I not.

I suppose you could say that if you really wanted to, but it sounds completely affected. It really stands out. It’s not normal speech, although neither is it “illegal” as your first one nearly is. Maybe you could use something like this for the very rare and special occasion:

  • No, “certain” is very most definitely something that I am not!

That doesn’t sound normal either, but it might be used to draw attention to the first word. Regular speech would simply be:

  • No, I’m not sure.

or sometimes,

  • No, I’m not sure, either.

Or if someone else had just said that they weren’t sure, then you could respond with and of:

  • No, I’m not, either.
  • I’m not, either.
  • Neither am I.

Notice the inversion in the last one.

Notice also how unlike in German, you cannot in English use “too” or “also” in the negative: you must use “not . . . either”, or less commonly “neither” followed by subject–verb inversion (that is, verb–subject). This last point I mention because is a very common mistake that native speakers of German often make in English, and some possible answers to your question might lead you down the wrong path.

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Thanks for the detailed discussion! In the meantime I found that the terminus technicus for the second german version is (Sentence) Inversion (see Edit section in my question). It's apparently not a valid rule in english grammar. –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 16:51
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It would mark you as either a non-native speaker or a Jedi master. –  Jim Jun 17 '12 at 17:46
    
@Jim: Lol, Jedi master is fine. I will keep continuing with wrong grammar then. –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 18:13
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The verb “To be” in the sentence you have provided ("No, I am not sure." [state of being or condition]), acts as a linking verb, joining the sentence subject ("I") with a complement ("sure").

A complement follows a linking verb; it is normally an adjective or a noun that renames or defines in some way the subject.¹

So "*No, sure I am not" is not valid English.

¹http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/objects.htm#complement

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It's a slightly "stylised/florid" usage, which may have some connotations of being dated/formal.

Here's a typical example from The Captain's Daughter (the Star Trek book, not Leah Fleming's one)

My father may be many things, but stupid he is not.

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To me, "stupid he is not" sounds very much like a New York Jewish speaker, so I suspect this usage is of Yiddish origin (and Yiddish has the same word order as German). And Peter David, the author of your typical example, is indeed of Jewish descent and was raised in New Jersey. –  Peter Shor Jun 17 '12 at 18:01
    
@Peter Shor: I think you're very probably right regarding the origin. And it's true I find it easy to imagine such phrasing being delivered in a Yiddish accent. But I do think it's gained sufficient general currency that I personally wouldn't call it a "yiddishism" today. –  FumbleFingers Jun 17 '12 at 19:39
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I see it as a possible use, although not common. The context could make it less odd.

Consider this situation: A: I'm tall, rich, beautiful... B: but are you intelligent? A: no, intelligent I am not.

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Hm, this is confusing me. Isn't your example exactly the same like the example in my question (replace "intelligent" by "sure")? –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 17:42
    
I didn't understand your comment! It is the same, only replaced "sure" with "intelligent". Or did you mean it is not the same? –  Tames Jun 17 '12 at 17:56
    
No, I meant, it is the same. But most other posters say it is wrong grammar while you seem to be saying it is possibly correct, depending on context. But I don't see the difference in the context between your and my example. –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 18:03
    
in this context, a series of qualifications are listed, and person B is being specific about one. It is a way of emphasizing it. As I said, it would be a very uncommon use. Maybe kind of archaic even. –  Tames Jun 17 '12 at 18:16
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While I agree with all the posters above in that it is not natural English, it could be used for a dialogue where the speaker is emphatically stating each word and intentially using the unorthodox word order for extra emphasis or perhaps fun/mirth "No! Sure,[pause] I am not!" with pauses and emphasis on "not" at the end.

"Are you both sure?"

"He is"

"No! Sure, I am [most definintely] not!"

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But this would be kind of a Socratic "meta-sure", like: "No!, Sure, I am not sure!" or "I am sure that I'm not sure." or "Certainly I'm not sure." Right? –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 17:22
    
Possibly, though I didn't mean it that way. I meant it being used in its not natural state as a way for emphasis and/or amusement. Consider, "yes, I like him, not!" which is quite common parlance these days though not grammatical or natural, it is used in speech as a more emphatic "No" with a little bit of a joke thrown in. –  Wolf5370 Jun 17 '12 at 17:26
    
Could also be used as a shortening (lazy speech) for "I am sure I am not" - again depends on the pronounciation and emphasis to carry the lost pronoun and auxillary verb. None of this works for written text, but can in dialogues for a script perhaps. –  Wolf5370 Jun 17 '12 at 17:29
    
Ah, now I understand. Exists in German too, "Ich bin sicher, [pause] nicht!" Grammatically wrong and rarely funny... –  Tom Jun 17 '12 at 17:38
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No, you can't transfer the flexibilty of German word order to English. It has to be No, I'm not sure.

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