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I know you can say "I don't think she's right" but I was wondering whether there is another way to say that.

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    There are hundreds of ways to say that, depending on precisely what you mean by "right". If someone tells you that "X said Y" it's perfectly fine to respond "I don't think she's right" or "I think she's wrong". "I think she's not right" is a bit contorted. Of course, if you think she's not in her right mind, that's an entirely different tap dance. – Hot Licks Dec 7 '14 at 15:12
  • Thanks for the reply! "Right" can be replaced by anything, for example "Beautiful". In that case, would "I think she's not beautiful" sound a bit odd too? I agree that it doesn't sound great but I cannot find a reason why it would be incorrect. – Diana Amza Dec 7 '14 at 15:20
  • There's a lot of difference between an English sentence being "legally" correct and it being natural-sounding. I suspect the hangup here is with "think", in that it's "unnatural" to put a negating adverb ("not") to the right of at least that verb. (I haven't thought through the general case of other verbs.) "Natural" is to either use "don't" on the left side or use the inverse of the adjective ("wrong" vs "right") on the right. (I'm sure the lawyers around can come up with a more rigorous rule.) – Hot Licks Dec 7 '14 at 15:30
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    There's two kinds of "legally" correct -- there's the phony kind of law, like don't split infinitives and don't say that because you sound uneducated -- that's all bullshit and you can ignore it. But there are real grammar rules that everybody follows, that yield very strange sentences when they are violated. Grammarians have a term for the funny feeling a native speaker gets when they encounter someone saying, e.g, *She took over Jim lunch (instead of She took lunch over to Jim). They call it Ungrammaticality; the rules for sorting out objects and particles were not followed correctly. – John Lawler Dec 7 '14 at 16:03
  • I remember this grammar rule from Longman's Total English series where it's clarified that for such sentences, you should always make the first part negative, i.e. "I don't think she's right." – Neeku Dec 7 '14 at 22:20
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In this type of sentence where the verb in the main clause is a synonym of "think", "believe", etc., English speakers tend to "promote" the negative to the main clause. So even if what is logically meant is:

"I believe that we haven't met"

"I think you won't have any trouble with this"

"I suppose that you can't leave work early"

people would actually tend to say:

"I don't believe we've met"

"I don't think you'll have any trouble with this"

"I don't suppose you can leave work early"

You could argue that there is in principle a difference in nuance between the two variants. But in practice, this nuance doesn't tend to be exercised, and speakers simply tend to favour the version with the negative in the main clause. Whereas, conversely, other languages may have a preference for putting the negative in the subordinate clause.

  • John Lawler has a related answer discussing the rare sorts of verbs that allow for negative-raising being equivalent and others that do not, and Kosmonaut has a related answer discussing verb-to-tense movement in English and French. One difference with moving the negative in Romance is a negated “belief” main verb requires a subjunctive, but not otherwise. Compare FR “Je crois qu’il n’est pas”, ES “Creo que no es…” with negated main FR: “Je ne crois pas qu’il soit…”, ES: “No creo que sea…”. – tchrist Jan 4 '15 at 16:29
  • Thanks -- didn't realise that this had been dealt with before. Incidentally, there are differences between the Romance languages in how automatic it is for the subjunctive to be triggered under particular circumstances wrt these verbs, and the two phenomena (negative raising vs subjunctive selection) may well be separate phenomena. Isn't verb raising essentially a separate phenomenon too? – Neil Coffey Jan 4 '15 at 16:55
  • Exact subjunctive triggers do vary somewhat between specific Romance languages, even within a single language when looked at historically: e.g., French abandoned the imperfect subjunctive in if clauses some while ago. There are multiple sorts of raising associated with different parts of VPs, like of auxiliaries in English or of clitic pronouns in Romance, particularly in Iberian Romance. Generally, raising a negative affects subjunctive selection because it changes the main clause from a positive belief asserting a fact to a negative belief denying an hypothesis—but exact rules vary a bit. – tchrist Jan 4 '15 at 17:23
  • Thank you! This is exactly the type of answer that I was hoping for. – Diana Amza Jan 12 '15 at 14:33

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