I have learned that this sentence has different meanings depending on which word is emphasized:

  1. She said she did not take his money. It was not someone else who said it.
  2. She said she did not take his money. So I believe her.
  3. She said she did not take his money. But someone else did.
  4. She said she did not take his money. ?
  5. She said she did not take his money. And thus she is still poor.
  6. She said she did not take his money. But she won it gambling.
  7. She said she did not take his money. But she took someone else's.
  8. She said she did not take his money. But she did take something else of his.

My problem is number 4. How does that differ from the rest?

And what does "She said she did not take his money" (no emphasis) mean?

  • 4
    This works for pretty much any sentence, provided you limit it to meaningful words; it's called Contrastive Stress and it implicitly compares whatever's stressed with its opposite, in context. No. 4 doesn't work because the did is an automatic auxiliary, required by negation but having no individual meaning, which therefore has no opposite to contrast with. Jul 11, 2015 at 15:17
  • 6
    @JohnLawler But it carries tense information, so maybe we could have She said she did not take his money. She did not say she wouldn't. Jul 11, 2015 at 15:21
  • 7
    You can contrive contexts where #4 could be used "naturally", but usually if the word did were stressed, not would be contracted - didn't. That's the only reason #4 seems unusual compared to the rest. Jul 11, 2015 at 15:28
  • 2
    @Araucaria: The function of carrying tense information is syntactic and automatic -- and probly on the way out, too. Tenses in English are much less useful than they are in an inflected language, and, given the difficulty of combining /d/ and /z/ with consonant clusters, they're frequently not pronounced and/or heard by non-native speakers. Jul 11, 2015 at 16:29
  • 1
    I agree with @JohnLawler here. Do is required automatically by negation so it's not available (as it would be in a positive polarity sentence) for verum focus. The tense-based example is metalinguistic, and we usually say that metalinguistic negation/focus doesn't count in armchair linguistics.
    – user31341
    Jun 21, 2017 at 14:03

2 Answers 2

  1. She said she did not take his money. ?

The emphasis is on the past tense. She did not take his money in the past.


"You said you were planning to collect, so did you take his money in the end?"

"Well no, I didn't take his money on that occasion, but if he doesn't pay the protection money soon, I might."

  • No. The opposite of a stressed did is a stressed did not. (4) doesn't work (except in forced contexts, eg word-as-a-word). Jul 11, 2015 at 23:01
  • 3
    I think we have to disagree. It's pretty much impossible to show how a sentence is emphasised by using differing typefaces. It's utterly impossible to show intonation. I can hear in my head what my version would sound like but there is no way I can convey it to you short of a recording. One of the neglected factors of the English language is how intonation affects meaning. That's why I had to invent extra context. Jul 11, 2015 at 23:16
  • I take it you've read John Lawler's comment above. Jul 12, 2015 at 15:14

Number 4 stresses 'did', that is, the positive action. You can think of #4 as a reply to the question "Did she or did she not (do) X?", where X is "not take his money".

Since X is expressed in the negative already, the 'did she not' part of the question results in an awkward-sounding double 'not'. Nevertheless, it illustrates that #4 has the following sense.

  • She said she refrained from taking his money. It's something that she can perhaps be proud of.

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