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'I don't have both' - is this sentence correct grammatically? If it is not then what is the correct way to say it?


Let's say Alice says 'I have an apple and a banana.'

Now, Bob does not have any of those fruits.

Then, he says, "I do not have both". Does it sound more like he does not have both at the same time (an AND condition) but he might have one of them & hence not 'both'?

Or, does it sound more like he has none of those fruits?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Centaurus, MetaEd, Drew, user140086 Nov 11 '15 at 2:24

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  • Unless you can explain why you have doubts about this (perfectly ordinary) construction, I think it's Off Topic proofreading. – FumbleFingers Nov 10 '15 at 21:52
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    You can find your answer here – Centaurus Nov 10 '15 at 21:56
  • @FF Ordinary? For a logician, maybe. Not many people I know use 'I do not have both' outside a rather unusual context. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 '15 at 22:55

Alice says that she has an apple and a banana. If Bob says, "I do not have both", he is being unnecessarily/irritatingly enigmatic. For no obvious reason he is implying that he has one of the two fruits, but not revealing which. If he actually has neither fruit he could more helpfully say

"I have neither."


Probably it is not grammatical, since "both" is a positive polarity item -- i.e. it does not ordinarily occur in negative contexts. However, sometimes it's okay. One context that allows negative "both" is quotative: in a conversation in which "both" occurred previously in a positive context, it may sound perfectly okay to use "not ... both". "Do you want to buy both fish and chicken?" "No, I don't want both." Without that context, though, "I don't want both fish and chicken" might mean "both fish and chicken are unwanted".

The relationship between "both" and its negative counterpart "either" is similar to that between "some" and its negative counterpart "any". "I don't want some fish" is also peculiar without special context.


I had two shoes, but my dog ate one. Now I don't have both. I see nothing incorrect with such usage, which I understand to mean that I am missing one of two items.

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    Clear: To open the safe deposit box, you need your own key and the bank's key. I didn't bring my key to the bank, but of course the bank has theirs. So I don't have both. That clearly means that I can't meet the requirements to open the box. Unclear: The originally posted "apple and banana" example. When Bob says, "I don't have both," he might have one and not the other, or he might not have any banana at all. Regardless, of these two cases, only in the safe deposit box case does the answer sound natural, only because I'm aware that there's some special significance to having both keys. – Steven Littman Nov 11 '15 at 2:12

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