2

original thread

On HiNative.com a Taiwanese person asked about the meaning of "cool", as in "cool friend" or "cool girl". I answered:

It means you admire something about them and would like to know them (if you don't already).

A Brazilian person asked if I should have used "yet" instead of "already". I replied that in this instance I believed either was okay, but "yet" would have been slightly better. He asked for further clarification, because he had learnt that negative sentences or questions had to use "yet".

I'll quote my answer below and would appreciate feedback about both the validity of my answer as well as my reasoning.

You have learnt correctly, and the page I linked to says it as well. Languages sometimes are fuzzy, and a good general rule can sometimes be bent. However, it was not my intention to "bend the rules", and in truth I did not even think about it as I wrote it. Since you are challenging me to think about this (in a good way, thank you) here is what may have gone thru my mind.

1) I was typing on my smartphone at the time, and I chose to shorten the parenthetical phrase. So, instead of typing "(if you don't already know them)", I typed "(if you don't already)". To my ear, it sounds better to end the hanging phrase with "already" than "yet". Other ears may differ. :)

2) Look at the entire thought.

  • It means you admire something about them and would like to know them (if you don't already)."

Even though "not" is there, the thought is positive -- you would like to know them. The conditional parenthetical thought does not change the tone of that idea.

That all said, yes, "yet" would have been better. It would also have been better to complete the hanging parenthetical phrase. But it is what it is, and I do not believe what I wrote was actually incorrect.

If I am wrong, let me know so that I may correct myself in that thread.

  • 2
    To my British ear, either seems fine. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 15 '16 at 13:08
  • 3
    About the use of "already" in negative statements: I expect ESL teachers teach this rule because you have to say "I'm not dressed yet" rather than "I'm not dressed already". So most of the time, it's a good rule. I don't know whether there are any languages that would use the same word in "I'm not dressed yet," and "I'm already dressed." If there are any, it would be a particularly good rule for those languages. – Peter Shor Oct 15 '16 at 13:17
  • Disregarding the fact that with Have you booked your return flight already? we'd normally put already directly before the verb (booked), I think if we use yet instead of already there it carries a much stronger implication that you will (or maybe should, are expected to) book the return flight. The already version doesn't really imply anything about the likelihood of doing it (or indeed, having already done it). – FumbleFingers Oct 15 '16 at 13:25
2

Brazilians (whom I know well, actually being one myself, in addition to being anglo and a native English speaker) are constantly trying to "catch out" native speakers. I was subjected to harassment on many lists with Brazilian (translator) participants who questioned my English.

In your phrase: /If you don't already/ (basically a spoken form) is totally correct English. In written form: x [SVP] + /if you don't already/ actually means: if you don't already know them. And it's typical of a spoken language form (not repeating the main verb). Non-repetition of main verbs and use of auxiliaries is typical of English (native speaker) speech.

If /you don't yet know them/ is grammatically correct but not conversationally comfortable and might be a more formal speech pattern.

to wit: If one turns the sentence around, one gets: You already know the man, don't you? Maybe you would like to know him, if you don't already [know him].

If you don't YET know him is also correct but less "fluent" here where the already comes from a previously implied: to know someone already.

For me, it's not about negative or declarative. It's about what is implied by the speaker in a sentence such as: I already know the person. The already is carried over from that implied idea. The implied idea has to use already and cannot use yet.

  • Thank you for the thorough and specific response, Lambie. I don't think he was trying to prove me wrong, but instead make a simple request for clarification.I tried to raise the "Useful" count for both answers, but I lack the necessary 15 points for my opinions to be visible. – RichF Oct 15 '16 at 15:33
  • Oh, yes, just a regular gadfly, not a nasty one....:) – Lambie Oct 15 '16 at 15:41
4

If the rule being discussed is

Negative sentences or questions have to use yet (instead of already).

then I'm afraid it's wrong. The relevant rule is more like

  • Negative sentences or questions may use yet (and may also use already).
    I.e, a negative polarity item like yet requires a negative trigger like not, if, or a question.

As I've said quite often here, if a troublesome sentence has a negative trigger in it, that is usually the source of the trouble. People tend to think they can put negatives in just as easily as they use a minus sign in arithmetic. But language is not mathematics, nor even logic.

Adding negation to a sentence changes the sentence in more than one simple way; it changes the attributes and grammar of every word in the sentence, so that ordinarily serviceable rules of thumb like the one above show their gaps in coverage, and often lead to false conclusions.

  • 1
    John Paul Jones didn't say "I have not already begun to fight," and I don't think any native speaker would use that wording. The rule is not completely wrong. – Peter Shor Oct 15 '16 at 14:54
  • True. Already has other constraints, like the kind of time (punctual vs durative) and the temporal viewpoint (expectative vs perfective) required in different situations. The fixed phrase not yet is used to define a continuous duration that is empty of the relevant events, starts in the indefinite past, and ends now. There is no corresponding fixed phrase not already (unless there's an exclamation point, in which case it means something happened far sooner than expected). Already itself has a complex set of presuppositions, some of them negative. – John Lawler Oct 15 '16 at 15:01
  • 1
    To paraphrase your main point, it was okay to use "already" in this instance. "Yet" would have been okay too. However, "yet" could not have been possible without the preceding "not". – RichF Oct 15 '16 at 15:25
  • (I don't yet have enough points to edit a comment.) Pretend I ended the above comment with, "Is this correct?" – RichF Oct 15 '16 at 15:26
  • Yes. The not commanding yet is necessary, because yet is a Negative Polarity Item, which means that it can only occur in a negative context. And there are many many types of negative contexts. – John Lawler Oct 16 '16 at 3:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.