10

I am doing documentation for a web application issue and I'm not sure how best to word what I'm trying to say:

"This appears to work no longer in any web browser."

"This appears no longer to work in any web browser."

"This appears not to work any longer in any web browser."

Which is most correct, or are they all equally correct?

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    I have an answer below, but why not This no longer appears to work in any web browser? It seems this would make everybody happy – Stu W Dec 9 '15 at 17:27
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    Great documentation would drop the "appears", and provide a factual answer. "This no longer works in any browser", if that's true, or "We believe this no longer works in any browser", if that's all you know. Further, for non-native speakers, parsing the sentence with "appears" is complicated by the context, in which elements appear on the screen. – jimm101 Dec 9 '15 at 21:16
14

This is a situation where Neg-Raising is useful. You want the negative in the main clause:

  • This does not appear to work any longer in any web browser.

Double any's in the sentence is fixable by Neg-Raising the whole phrase no longer

  • This no longer appears to work in any web browser.
  • The link is very useful, indeed. – user140086 Dec 9 '15 at 16:14
  • Note that, in the strictest sense, the re-wording in this answer doesn't match the idea expressed in the asker's examples. Those explicitly state that the subject's functionality appears to be broken. This answer changes the sentence to say the subject doesn't appear to be functional. That is not the same as saying the subject appears to be broken. It just means you can't conclude that it's functional from its appearance. This is commonly taken to mean it's non-functional, but if you're writing a technical document for example this wording might be too ambiguous. – talrnu Dec 9 '15 at 19:59
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    @talrnu No, you need to think that through. I don't seem to be happy just means It appears I'm not happy. The sentence he appears to be eating the donut just means it appears he is eating the donut. The verb APPEARS is kind of transparent, it doesn't matter what the Subject of the verb is, it belongs semantically in the infinitive clause ALWAYS. It NEVER belongs in the matrix clause unless the meaning of the verb is entirely different, for example, he appeared in that film or a monster appeared from behind the curtain. The sentence ... – Araucaria Dec 9 '15 at 20:21
  • @talrnu ... "it appears to not be functional" means exactly the same as "it doesn't appear to be functional" within the context that you are talking about. There are in fact some situations when it wouldn't be, but your example isn't one of those. – Araucaria Dec 9 '15 at 20:23
  • @Araucaria Consider the case of a beat up old car. At first glance, it doesn't appear to work because it looks like it might not work, but (again, in the strictest sense) you can't say "It appears not to work" because that implies you've observed an attempt to make it work and witnessed it fail. Only when you turn the key in the ignition and see that the car doesn't start can you correctly say that. The asker's example is presumably parallel to this scenario - some code tried to use a component that doesn't work in the user's current browser, so this message explains that exact observation. – talrnu Dec 9 '15 at 20:59
9

In English we far prefer to negate the main verb in the matrix clause in sentences like this. Negating the infinitive is generally awkward unless extreme technical specificity is what is required. Compare:

  • I don't want to go.

and

  • I want to not go.
  • I want not to go.

The original is better because it negates the main verb and not the infinitive. It is easier to process.

The original Poster is using the phrase no longer to negate the sentence. They would be far better off with:

  • This no longer appears to work in any web browser.

Here the negation is applied to the clause headed by the verb appears, not to the infinitival clause.


For the record, as it will no doubt be a matter of some debate here, there is no reason not to split an infinitive if it sounds right to you.

  • 2
    How about "This doesn't appear to work any longer..."? – user140086 Dec 9 '15 at 16:08
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    @Rathony Yes, that seem ok too. That could be negating either the matrix clause or the infinitival one. It certainly works better that the OP's other suggestions, IMO! – Araucaria Dec 9 '15 at 16:09
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    Yes, I thought so, too. :) – user140086 Dec 9 '15 at 16:10
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    Thanks! Many good answers but I can only pick one! – trpt4him Dec 9 '15 at 19:47
  • @Araucaria See my comment on John Lawler's answer for a valid reason why your last sentence ("...there is no reason...") might need some reconsideration. – talrnu Dec 9 '15 at 20:10
4

Your third one is correct:

This appears not to work any longer in any web browser.

You can also use a split infinitive, however some grammarians would advocate against it:

This appears to no longer work in any web browser.

Personally, I'd prefer the split infinitive version (sounds more idiomatic to me).

  • 1
    I'm with you; the split infinitive is best here. There are no competent grammarians who advise against the split infinitive. They have always been a legitimate part of English grammar. – Lee Daniel Crocker Dec 9 '15 at 23:14
2

It appears this no longer works in any web browser

Why go through the tar pit when you can go around it.

However, another excellent question is, the word before "any," in or with?

  • This answer neatly avoids the slight ambiguity due to the change in meaning caused by "neg-raising", without sacrificing the aesthetic quality neg-raising provides. – talrnu Dec 9 '15 at 20:08
1

Your third sentence is the most correct. Moreover, it also sounds less stilted than your first two sentences. Perhaps, as A.P. observes, "to no longer work" is most idiomatic, but a grammar Nazi might object to the split infinitive (i.e., "to" separated from "work").

Also, sentence number three simply sounds better to my ear. Maybe I am a grammar Nazi! (Perish the thought!)

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    Isn't it (to no longer work sounds better) because no longer itself sounds more idiomatic? – user140086 Dec 9 '15 at 16:04
  • @Rathony: Yeah, I guess so. What sounds more idiomatic to you may not sound more idiomatic to me, however. Maybe our brains are wired differently (lol, as the young people say nowadays!). Don – rhetorician Dec 9 '15 at 16:07
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    Yeah, definitely. You are not a grammar Nazi. :) – user140086 Dec 9 '15 at 16:09
  • @Rathony: Thanks for the vote of confidence. Truth be told, however, there was a time when I corrected my kids' grammar. They are now 30 and 35 respectively, so I don't correct them anymore. Besides, it's a free world, yes? Moreover, empires are crumbling (translation: there are far more important things going on in the world than grammatical errors). – rhetorician Dec 9 '15 at 16:14
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    It's pretty well established that the "no split infinitive" rules have no basis in any logic or reason, and have no reason to exist. So feel free to boldly split infinitives that no one has split before. – Steven Littman Dec 9 '15 at 17:57

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