A Japanese friend of mine told me that, according to some articles that she read online (written in Japanese), the following sentence is incorrect:

"She won't forgive you as long as you don't apologize to her."

She doesn't understand why it would be considered incorrect, as we use 'as long as' with two negative verbs all the time (e.g. It won't break as long as you don't touch it).

That said, as a native speaker, it intuitively rubs me the wrong way, and 'if' seems to be the obvious choice here. So, is it grammatically incorrect? And if so, why? Any insights would be appreciated.

  • 1
    Grammatically correct or not I don't think it's idiomatic. I agree with you that it feels wrong. – nnnnnn Dec 10 '19 at 6:59
  • It's the fact that 'as long as you don't do X' can mean 'provided you don't do X' or 'unless you do X'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '19 at 17:33
  • It can be confusing, but it's not all that "odd". – Hot Licks Jan 9 at 16:15

"She won't forgive you as long as you don't apologize to her", is apparently not wrong. The same sentence can be rewritten in a lot of ways, like:

She won't forgive you until you apologize to her. She won't forgive you unless you apologize to her. She won't forgive you until and unless you apologize to her. She will five you if you apologize to her.

Using two negative clauses in a complex sentence is acceptable.

  • 'The same sentence can be rewritten in a lot of ways' implies that there will be paraphrases following. But you give alternative interpretations. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '19 at 16:51

The sentence is grammatical, but it's pragmatically odd, because one major use of as long as is to introduce a sufficient condition for a desired outcome. (Merriam-Webster gives that use as sense #1, with the definition "provided that". [link]) So the sentence makes it sound like the speaker thinks the interlocutor might be trying to avoid being forgiven, and is either offering advice on how to do that or offering reassurance that the interlocutor's strategy is sufficient to achieve that . . . which is bizarre, because it's highly unusual to think that that might be someone's goal. It's so strange, in fact, that if the suggestion were made more explicit, we would interpret it as intentionally ironic. (Something like "If you don't want her to forgive you, don't worry, all you've got to do is keep on not apologizing" would really mean "You need to apologize.") But as long as isn't quite explicit enough to trigger this ironic interpretation.

  • Other major uses? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '19 at 16:51
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    @EdwinAshworth: If you want to say something, say it. – ruakh Dec 10 '19 at 17:25
  • If 'as long as' has other reasonably senses, one of these could be the default reading here, or there could be ambiguity. This is relevant. (I could just have downvoted, without giving a reason, as some do.) – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '19 at 17:32
  • Excellent explanation. Makes perfect sense now. Thank you. – TFlo83 Dec 11 '19 at 4:49

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