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I can’t recommend the book enough.

Does it mean that it’s not a good book or it’s a really really good book?

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Note to closevoters: This is not General Reference. It is interpretation of ambiguous language, which is a tricky subject. Note to poster: please edit the question to show the context which comes before the quotation, and also to show the efforts you made to research the answer before asking here. –  MετάEd Dec 29 '12 at 17:20

3 Answers 3

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“I can't recommend the book enough” is somewhat ambiguous. It might mean the speaker likes the book tremendously, beyond his or her ability to say how much. Or it might mean the speaker cannot recommend the book.

A similar sentence, “I can’t recommend him highly enough”, is referred to at literalminded.wordpress.com as a “carefully ambiguous phrasing”.

The following, in which most sentences exhibit similar ambiguities, is a classic example of a recommendation that may look positive but is indeed quite negative. It is quoted from a Deliberate Ambiguities webpage at www.cut-the-knot.org.

You write to ask me for my opinion of X, who has applied for a position in your department. I cannot recommend him too highly nor say enough good things about him. There is no other student of mine with whom I can adequately compare him. His thesis is the sort of work you don't expect to see nowadays and in it he has clearly demonstrated his complete capabilities. The amount of material he knows will surprise you. You will indeed be fortunate if you can get him to work for you.

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+1 for the quote from "Deliberate Ambiguities. –  Peter Shor Dec 29 '12 at 17:41

In almost all contexts it will be a positive comment.

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Everything depends on context. On its face, this statement means that this book is so good that my words of praise are not sufficient, they do not do it justice. On the other hand, if the speaker or writer wants to be ironic, the same thing can be said to indicate that the book is garbage. Moses Hadas (1900-1966) replied to someone: "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book - I'll waste no time reading it."

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Thanks! The quote by Moses, was it sarcasm? –  Kanini Dec 29 '12 at 8:27
    
No, irony. It can be interpreted to mean "I'll begin reading your book right now" or "I won't waste a single second on reading your book. Reading it would be a waste of my time". Were it sarcasm, it would be obvious which interpretation the writer intended. Because it's irony, the reader has to guess which was intended, if the reader is sensitive enough to see that it has two conflicting meanings. –  user21497 Dec 29 '12 at 8:45
    
I don't get this. "I'll waste no time reading your book" has two possible meanings (I'll read it without delay and I won't idle away my time reading it). But I can't see how OP's example can reasonably be seen as ironic shorthand for "[Because I'm honest and frank, and this book is rubbish, I'm afraid I can't recommend the book enough to be in apparent agreement with anyone who thinks it's actually good". –  FumbleFingers Dec 29 '12 at 17:22
    
@F: I agree with Barrie that in most contexts it would be a positive comment, but "I can't recommend it enough" can just as easily mean "I can't recommend that anyone else read it" (perhaps that means I'd give it 2 or even a 5 on a scale of 10, but I wouldn't read anything under a 7). jwpat7's answer seems to say it all, & my answer came an hour before I saw his. Some people think that euphemisms like "darn" are no different from the alleged profanity of "damn", but I don't. –  user21497 Dec 29 '12 at 17:38

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