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Can I use 'better still' in a negative sentence? I'm especially interested in American English usage. Does it sound natural to say:

You may not have the access to a trusted counselling, or better still, to a 24/7 support?

Meaning that the latter would be much better, but it's difficult to get?

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    Sure. You are not reinforcing a negative there, but the alternative to a negative, which would make it a positive. – Robusto Apr 13 '15 at 12:19
  • I would not. Also it is not working well as a question. Do you not have the access to a trusted counselling, or better still, 24/7 support? If the question mark belonged to the "Does it sound naturally" then the sentence could be You may not have the access to 24/7 support or even trusted counselling – mplungjan Apr 13 '15 at 12:19
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    I disagree with Robusto - the original sentence really confuses me, and I'm a native speaker. It only makes sense to me if I substitute "better still" for something like "more importantly" – user568458 Apr 13 '15 at 16:43
  • Do you consider 24/7 support to be the better option than trusted counselling? – René Nyffenegger Apr 14 '15 at 6:20
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As an aside, I think three articles can be dropped to form a clearer sentence. Also, the question mark confuses me a little bit, because the sentence is structured as a factual statement, not as a question. You can of course add a question mark to turn any sentence into a question, using intonation, but I'll assume a statement for now.

You may not have access to trusted counselling, or better still, to 24/7 support.

The obvious problem is that it's not clear that access to 24/7 support is also affected by the negation, because of the semantic clash with better. I would suggest to use another option, to indicate that 24/7 support is even harder to find, rather than much better to have:

You may not have access to trusted counselling, let alone 24/7 support.

As Merriam-Webster says for let alone:

to say nothing of : not to mention —used especially to emphasize the improbability of a contrasting example
“he would never walk again let alone play golf — Sports Illus.”
“how many ever see an Ambassador or Minister, let alone a President — Robert Lacville”

  • This is a dodge. There is nothing wrong with better still in the construction. In fact, the latter has attractive rhetorical consequences, given that it paints the the entire alternative as something to be desired. – Robusto Apr 13 '15 at 14:00
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    The original sentence actually confused me. No access to x versus better still to y made me wonder why no access to x was in any way a good thing. I expect better still to introduce something that is even better than the preceding part, but in this case, the preceding part is not good at all, it is actually negative. – oerkelens Apr 13 '15 at 14:02
  • @robusto as a native speaker, the original sentence confused me, while the suggested let alone alternative makes perfect sense to me. that's hardly a "dodge". this is an excellent answer. language is defined by usage not what a textbook says. – ell Apr 13 '15 at 23:18
  • Who said anything about a textbook? I'm going on how it sounds to me. YMMOV. – Robusto Apr 13 '15 at 23:51
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I believe the "negative" version you're looking for is worse yet:

You may not have access to trusted counseling, worse yet 24/7 support?

Alternately or worse:

You may not have access to trusted counseling, or worse: 24/7 support?

Or you could reverse the order to make use of much less:

You may not have access to 24/7 support, much less trusted counseling?

The order must be reversed in this last structure so that the scope of the former encompasses the latter.

  • This is not a question, so it shouldn't have a question mark, unless it's a case of repeating something just said in an unbelieving voice. But in that case it should have quotation marks as well. – John Lawler Apr 13 '15 at 14:14
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    Depends on the context. Regardless, I'm just re-using the asker's original example, take it up with them. – talrnu Apr 13 '15 at 14:16
  • If an ungrammatical sentence goes in, generally an ungrammatical sentence comes out; especially when discussing rules of grammar and meaning. – John Lawler Apr 13 '15 at 14:19

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