Consider the sentence:

I don't seem to have enough time.

Theoretically, it could be rephrased:

I seem to not have enough time.

It seems to be grammatically correct, but it sounds a bit off. What is the problem with the rephrased version?

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    @Josh61 The answers on that question post come nowhere near to answering this question - because of the why element and also because they erroneously assert that the two sentences mean the same thing - technically, they don't :) See below for why ... Jun 30 '15 at 20:46
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    @Araucaria Why did you delete the answer? It seemed to be saying something very interesting, though you did use a lot of words to say it. If you could condense those ideas into something of half the length I think it has valuable potential.
    – WS2
    Jun 30 '15 at 20:51
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    @ScotM The fact that SEEM is a raising verb is not a main issue here (or really an issue at all). To wit the same problems are faced with I don't want him to go and I want him not to go as they also are with He didn't seem to care and He seemed to not care and also with It didn't seem that he cared and It seemed that he didn't care. So, in other words, it might be best if you undid that title change there :) Jul 1 '15 at 0:55
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    Yes, its status as Raising is irrelevent, because the subject is raised in either construction. It's Neg-raising that's the issue; if it presents negation upstairs in the seem clause, do-support is obligatory. But not if the negation is downstairs in the infinitive. Jul 1 '15 at 2:33
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    I agree @Araucaria, that the raising verb seem is not the real issue, per se, nor is it simply an issue of negation. In the OP, those two issues were being confused with a third issue: the native speaker's preference for negating the raising (or auxiliary) verb, rather than the the complement infinitive. The issue of do support is a complete non-sequitur. Since the example posits a raising verb, it seems appropriate to acknowledge that in the title. I understand that my edits shifted the question away from your answer, which still bears upon the curiosity of the question.
    – ScotM
    Jul 1 '15 at 2:59

Native speakers of English might say:

I have enough time!

That expression communicates a sense of certainty behind the assertion. The expression would normally be negated:

I don't have enough time!

The do supports the negation as usual.

Because things rarely are what they seem to be, if native speakers wish to avoid appearing presumptuous, they hedge on the certainty factor by altering the first expression:

I seem to have enough time.

Simplifying the syntactical complexity of the A-Raising verb seem, the relationship between I, the original subject, and time, the original object, has been bifurcated. A decisive branch of perception is expressed by the main verb seem, while a tentative branch of evaluation is expressed by the infinitive phrase to have enough time. As a raising-to-subject verb, seem does not behave exactly like the predicate its form suggests, but tends to modify the implied predicate--have enough time:

The raising-to-subject verbs seem and appear are similar to auxiliary verbs insofar as both verb types have little to no semantic content. The content that they do have is functional in nature. In this area, auxiliary verbs cannot be viewed as separate predicates; they are, rather, part of a predicate. The raising-to-subject verbs seem and appear are similar insofar it is difficult to view them as predicates. They serve, rather, to modify a predicate
Wikipedia emphasis added

Native speakers of English prefer to negate the perception or thought rather than the evaluation or conclusion. This seems to be a logical concession to an epistemological reality: we know what we perceive with much more certainty than we know what will arise from what we perceive. So to reduce the force of the negated form, a native speaker would naturally alter the decisive branch of the second expression:

I don't seem to have enough time.

Again, the do supports the negation as usual, the perception seem is being negated, while the verb have remains tentative. It is not yet determined whether I don't have enough time.

We can fill in the blank with almost any verb. You seem to _________ that:

  • be
  • hear (or any other verb of perception)
  • understand (or any other verb of thought)
  • say (or any other verb of expression)
  • take (or any other verb of action)

All the examples above are routinely negated in the same way:

You don't seem to _________ that.

Either out of ignorance, or for refined characterization, an English speaker could use the variant:

I seem to not have enough time.

In this variant, the main verb seem is not negated, negating an infinitive does not require do support. Although a subtle distinction can be drawn, the difference in meaning is generally negligible. By eliminating the syntactic complexity of the A-raising, we can more easily compare two almost identical conclusions:

  1. I don't seem to have enough time. => It doesn't seem like I have enough time.
  2. I seem to not have enough time. => It seems like I don't have enough time.

The feature of flexible negation noted in I seem to have enough time distinguishes the raising verb seem from a routine auxiliary verb:

The fact that position of the negation can change without influencing the meaning is telling. It means that the raising-to-subject verbs can hardly be viewed as predicates.
Wikipedia emphasis added

A ratio of more than 600:1 in the corpus seems to suggest that the normal do not seem to is significantly more idiomatic than the variant seem to not . The other rarely used construction, seem not to, is even 25 times more common:

enter image description here


The variant is not ungrammatical, per se, and it has legitimate uses to draw subtle distinctions of focus, but it is generally perceived as unidiomatic, suggesting that native speakers have been trained with a strong preference for negating the measurable perception: I seem! After all the construction is designed to add a tentative sense to the conclusion: to have enough time.

  • Interestingly, if you compare the corresponding it seems varieties, there is still a marked preference for it does not seem to, but it seems not to is much more frequently than I seem not to. Jul 2 '15 at 9:04
  • Yes, @JanusBahsJacquet. It seems native speakers intuitively place the not as far away from the infinitive complement as they can, unless they have a specific purpose for negating the infinitive, in which case they prefer to eliminate the A-raising. All of it seems to converge on the epistemological theory of the dynamic: our thoughts and perceptions are more easily falsifiable, and once our thoughts and perceptions are falsified, the conclusions naturally fall with them.
    – ScotM
    Jul 2 '15 at 15:06
  1. I don't seem to have enough time.

  2. I seem to not have enough time.

Short answer:

Some verbs that take clauses as complements create subordinate negation implicatures. This means that in a [verb] + [clause] combination, if we negate the verb, we imply the same meaning as if we had negated the complement clause. So, for example, the sentence "I do not want you to go" implies "I want you to not go". This means that we can, in most circumstances choose which part to negate when dealing with these types of verb. As a general rule of thumb, English speakers prefer to have the negation as early on in the sentence as possible. This makes the sentences far easier to process. Because SEEM is one of these types of verb, the Original Poster's first sentence is infinitely preferable to the second, because the negation happens earlier.

Notice that whether a verb is a raising verb or not has absolutely no bearing on whether this is possible. Some raising verbs create these implicatures, some don't. The same is true of non-raising verbs. The author of the title here may be confused about NEG-raising. NEG-raising is a technical term which endeavours to explain how subordinate negation implicatures arise through a grammatical transformation.

The real answer

The Original Poster's question asks about DO-support in relation to the two sentences. That question hinges on whether it is the same to negate the verb seem in the main clause, as it is to negate have in the subordinate clause. This is because negating seem, the tensed verb will require DO-support, whilst negating the infinitival verb in the subordinate clause won't.

The answer to the OP's question here is "yes", the first sentence can be paraphrased as the second. With a caveat though. When we want to convey I seem to not have enough time, we are more likely to say I don't seem to have enough time. However, the same facts don't flow perfectly in reverse. We might want to convey He doesn't seem to have enough time but not be able to truthfully say that He seems to not have enough time. Here's the story about why:

It is a fact known to millions of hardworking English language students all over the world that native English speakers strongly prefer negating the verbs think, believe, seem and want, amongst others, to negating the complement clauses that they license. So, for instance, all other things being equal, we prefer:

(1). I don’t believe that the Yeti exists.


(2). I believe that the Yeti doesn’t exist.

We also would tend to prefer:

  • He doesn't seem to like it.


  • He seems to not like it.

and there is absolutely no doubt that:

  • I don't want to go.

is far more customary than the rather stilted:

  • I want to not go.

Notice that what is implied by (1) is the same as what is literally encoded in (2). However, (1) does not in fact strictly semantically encode the same information as (2) at all. If we made no further pragmatic assumptions about what the speaker of (1) intended to convey, then the maximum we should be entitled to decode is that the speaker does not possess a positive creedal attitude about the existence of Yetis. It is entirely possible that the speaker may have no definite opinion about the existence or non-existence of Yetis, in which case they would not be able to truthfully commit to either a belief or disbelief in them. This might be due to an agnostic state of mind, or it may be merely because the speaker has never even thought about it. To commit the speaker of (1) to a belief in (2) is potentially doing them a great disservice.

Be that as it may, most listeners would understand (1) as conveying the same as (2), and they are indeed entitled to, because most speakers - unless they were wishing to be very explicitly technical about it - would prefer the former to the latter to convey the very same information. What is interesting here is that speakers are modifying the verb denoting the action of belief in order to manipulate the listener’s understanding of the object of the belief - the information in the complement clause. More specifically they are negating the verb denoting the believing, but implying a negation of the complement clause.

This phenomenon is known as SUBORDINATE NEGATION IMPLICATION. Verbs that tend to generate such implicatures seem to be verbs that denote states of intention, epistemic stance or opinion, or those which can be used performatively for advice. Dynamic verbs which denote actions, changes of mental states and so forth do not tend to generate these implicatures. Compare the following sentences with the dynamic verb say:

He didn't say that she danced.

He said that she didn't dance.

Here the two sentences do not convey the same information at all. We are not likely to infer the information in the second sentence when we read the first.

One more factor comes into play here. Verbs that generate subordinate negation implicatures, tend to be what are described in the CaGEL as medium strength verbs. They contrast for example 'stronger' know with 'medium strength' believe. The reason that these verbs tend to generate such implicatures is merely that, pragmatically, it does not seem very informative to tell somebody that you don't have a medium strength stance about something. We tacitly infer, on this basis, the more informative proposition that the speaker has a stance about a negative idea.

However, with so-called stronger verbs, on the other hand, it is informative to convey that your confidence in a stance is not 100%, or contrastingly with weak verbs to convey that that not even the slightest positive attitude is given to the proposition in the complement clause. The strong and weak usages of the following verbs do not, therefore, generate subordinate negation implication:

I don't know that she went. ≠ I know that she didn't go.

I don't suspect her of stealing.I suspect her of not stealing.

In relation to the original poster's question, outside of very specific circumstances the following sentences would be understood as interchangeable:

  • I don't seem to have enough time.
  • I seem to not have enough time.

However, it's still iportant to note that in special circumstances they may not have the same meaning.

As to why speakers actually prefer to negate verbs such as want, seem and believe rather than to negate their complement clauses, I do not believe that anybody knows (- by which I want you to infer that I believe that nobody knows).

  • Can you please cite one or more references to support your argument?
    – user66974
    Jun 30 '15 at 20:49
  • @Josh61 Well, there's CaGEL: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, Cambridge Universtity Press, but I've already put that in there. Don't have the page refs to hand ... Jun 30 '15 at 20:55
  • @Josh61 But if you really are interested let me know and I'll dig out the page refs when I get home ... Jun 30 '15 at 21:01
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    It is not for my personal use, but for completeness of your answer.
    – user66974
    Jun 30 '15 at 21:03
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    Even with medium-strength verbs, negating the subordinate instead of the matrix is sometimes almost unavoidably preferable. Or perhaps the case is rather that medium-strength verbs also sometimes have stronger meanings; e.g., I believe meaning either ‘as far as I know; I think that’ or ‘it is my firm position that’. The example I have in mind is George W. Bush’s statement that, “I believe that people who are going to commit crimes shouldn’t have guns”; using “I don’t believe that people who are going to commit crimes should have guns” would sound rather weak and tepid here. Jul 2 '15 at 9:11

It is a good idea when writing an essay to begin by telling your reader what you intend to write about. You then take up the body of the essay with saying it, and end with a set of conclusions. That is, you say what you are going to say, you say it, and then you say what you have said. I find it a good structure to follow.

In all honesty I would have to spend a good deal of time reading and re-reading what you have written to gain an appreciation.

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