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I have noticed the word "already" used in negative sentences:

  • I haven't already cooked dinner as the stove is not working.
  • I hope you haven't already had this book. I have just bought one for you.

[1] Is it grammatically right to use "already" in negative sentences?

[2] What is the difference if we change "already" to "yet" for the above sentences?

[3] I hope you can give me more examples to support your explanation.

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  • Just think of the common saying -> Would you stop it already. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 22:07

4 Answers 4

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Already is an example of what the The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls a polarity-sensitive item. These are items that typically occur either in positive contexts or in negative contexts.

The CGEL (p710) states that already "characteristically occurs in positive clauses". But it later notes:

(Still and) already are certainly not wholly excluded from falling within the scope of a negative, but they do so only under restricted conditions ... .

The Collins Cobuild English Grammar (p262) specifies three of these conditions with examples:

Note that 'already' cannot normally be used in negative statements, but can be used in negative if-clauses, negative questions and relative clauses.

  • Refer certain types of death to the coroner if this has not already been done.
  • What does it show us that we haven't already felt?
  • ... all peers who did not already belong to the Privy Council.

As to the sentences in the question, the first one I haven't already cooked dinner does not meet any of the CCEG's three conditions. Already should be replaced by yet: I haven't cooked dinner yet.

The second sentence is I hope you haven't already had this book. The tense of the verb 'had' seems somewhat odd (as @Sven in another answer also points out). So I'll analyse the more natural:

I hope you don't already have this book.

Although this doesn't fulfil any of the CCEG's conditions, it seems perfectly acceptable. I can imagine a context in which I have bought a book that I think might interest you and express my hope that you don't possess it already. We have never talked about the book before; there is no indication that you had planned to buy the book at some point.

The alternative is:

I hope you don't yet have this book.

This seems more likely in a context in which we have already had a conversation about the book and you expressed an interest in acquiring it.

At any rate, for me both sentences are 'grammatical':

  • I hope you don't already have this book.
  • I hope you don't yet have this book.
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    'I hope you haven't already had this book – I only went to the local branch library, and I couldn't see any others I thought you'd enjoy.' would be fine in the UK. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 16:32
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Yes, yes and yes! it is possible to use ALREADY in negative sentences, but not in general, as its usage may depend heavily on the context.

For example, a simple dialog:

A man comes home early to his cranky wife, he can smell food. Q: Say, you haven't cooked dinner ALREADY, have you? A: No, dumb-ass! I haven't done anything ALREADY, you know I have been busy all day, so decided to order a takeaway.

Or here's another one: You have only known him for 1 hour and you ALREADY don't want to see him ever again!

Hopefully, this offers a slightly different perspective on "what is acceptable or possible".

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The negation of already in general is not yet.

Sentence 1 sounds wrong, and correct would be

  • I haven't cooked dinner yet as the stove is not working.

Sentence 2 is wrong not only because of the use of already, but also because owning ("having") a book continues into the present, hence

  • I hope you don't have this book yet; I('ve) just bought it for you.

Or, using a verb that indicates an action completed in the past as intended by the OP:

  • I hope you haven't bought this book yet; I('ve) just bought it for you.

However, I can think of rare instances where not already might be warranted:

I hope you haven't already cooked dinner. I brought us some take-out from Trotter's.

(Of course the sentence also works with not yet.)

The reason why I feel it might work here is because the negation is not on the time attribute (already) but on the whole phrase "already cooked dinner". There is a positive expectation in that phrase, which gets negated in its entirety.

I'm not sure this makes sense, so let me give you a similar construction: As a rule, some is used in positive statements, any is used in negation and questions. (E.g.: I eat some pie. There isn't any pie left. Is there any pie left?) However, when we offer someone pie in form of a question, we use some instead of any despite it being a question: "Would you like some pie?" The reason, I have been taught, is that the questioner is implying an affirmative response. So it's more like "Surely you'd like some pie!", as opposed to "You don't want any pie! Do you?"

So in a similar vein, the questioner in the above statement does not want to imply that the (spouse?) has been remiss in cooking dinner and it's not cooked yet. Rather, she's trying to convey a positive message: instead of already cooking dinner we'll have take-out!

Do I find agreement here?

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'Already' is, in its origin and in its use, a positive matter. 'It is all ready' is a positive thing to say.

To attach that to a negative seems, to me, idiomatically wrong.

These sound right to me :

'I haven't yet done that.' 'I've done that already.'

I think that this one is a matter of idiom and colloquial speech. Which are both based on what the human mind accommodates in expressing concepts in appropriate language that is agreeable to how we actually think.

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