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I know someone who initially typed the phrase, "I didn't mean to not miss it." After I pointed out that this had a double negative, he corrected this to "I didn't mean to, not miss it"

I believe this second phrase is both grammatically incorrect and conveys the incorrect meaning. I'm not sure how to explain the incorrectness of the phrase. Could someone help?

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    A double negative doesn’t mean it’s wrong. What was the intended meaning?
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 7:07
  • @Jim , I'm relatively certain that "I didn't mean to, not miss it" is incorrect grammar. It's possible I'm wrong. If I am right, I am looking for the reason why.
    – Wittiest
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 7:30
  • What aspect of grammar do you think it violates?
    – Lawrence
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 7:53
  • @Lawrence None of these rules for commas from purdue apply to that sentence: owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/… The only exception would be if you tried to fit it under some sort of catch-all rule, but there is no reason for it to be there and it makes the sentence nonsensical.
    – Wittiest
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 8:05
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    There was nothing wrong, grammatically, with the first sentence - though it sounds a bit awkward, perhaps because of the split infinitive. The comma in the second one is quite out of place. A perhaps better-sounding alternative might have been "I didn't mean not to miss it".
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 9:01

2 Answers 2

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The Purdue link link you cite in comments to your question isn't the final word on commas. However, your friend's quote could possibly fit item 7 in that list ("separate contrasted coordinate elements").

The expanded, non-negated form is more common:

  • He meant to watch it, not miss it.

In response to a question such as "Did he watch it?", an ellipsed version might work:

  • He meant to, not miss it.

Your friend's negated, ellipsed variant (containing a comma) is arguably of the same pattern, though it takes more effort to parse it. This is not to say your friend's sentence is idiomatic, only that it is not necessarily ungrammatical.

Alternatively, your friend could be providing more information, as in the second example of item 7 of your list:

  • The chimpanzee seemed reflective, almost human.

Under this interpretation, your friend would first be saying that they "didn't mean to" do whatever it was they were denying. The part after the comma elaborates on what they didn't mean to do: they didn't mean to "miss it". This phrasing sounds colloquial.

Grammar is a low bar to cross; there are often weird and quirky interpretations that pull seemingly-ungrammatical sentences back into acceptability.

Regarding your second point, you've provided insufficient information for us to determine whether your friend's phrasing "conveys the incorrect meaning". If we don't know the meaning intended, we can't know whether any specific phrasing conveys it.

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  • Although your explanation of "He meant to, not miss it" as a possibility is valid, I think that, at the level of English of the OP's question, we can, on the balance of probabilities, say that "He meant to, not miss it" is wrong as the comma separates the subject and verb from its complement/object. Absent context, the intended sentence was probably "He did not mean to miss it" or "He meant to hit it."
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 9:20
  • @Greybeard Thanks for your comment. In this answer, I don't guess at the speaker's intent (see the last paragraph). The focus is on the issue the OP highlighted: whether the sentence is grammatical.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 17:27
  • There are no contrasted coordinate elements in "He meant to, not miss it" though. Notice how all the examples in 7 (except "aren't you" which is its own thing) involve a noun after the comma that could grammatically replace a corresponding phrase before it - you could say "He was not stupid" or "The chimpanzee seemed almost human" or "The speaker seemed gullible". There is no such parallel with "He meant to, not miss it". And for a distinct pause or shift to work, "not miss it" would have to be able to stand on its own, which it doesn't.
    – Oosaka
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 12:56
  • The closest I can mentally come to your colloquial suggestion for the phrase to work involves separating it into two sentences - like: "You missed the game, doofus" "What? No! I didn't mean to! Not MISS it????" and even that I find a stretch.
    – Oosaka
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 12:56
  • @Oosaka Thank you for your feedback. The OP’s quote could be dismissed as poor composition; its point of interest is that it emerged from editing after feedback, suggesting that it was a considered attempt to communicate. Although it wasn’t particularly successful, the structure isn’t necessarily ungrammatical, as my answer tried to explain.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 16:01
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I'm finding it hard to get links on this offhand, I may find them later (or someone could point me in the right direction...) but on reflection I tend to agree the second phrase is ungrammatical (the first is fine, if hard to parse - as others pointed out it's hard to tell whether it's fine or not if we don't know the intended meaning).

Basically there are two uses for "to mean to". Either you are saying "I mean to do something", in which case you cannot have a comma between "to" and "do something". Or you are saying "I mean to", which is a fine standalone sentence where what it is you mean to do is derived from the context of the previous sentences.

In this case, "I didn't mean to not miss it" is grammatically fine, just a bit confusing and only context can tell us if it's the best sentence for the job or not. I guess if it has a flaw it's that usually you don't have a negative sentence after things like "I mean to" or "I want to", you say "I don't mean to" or "I don't want to" instead, but it's still fine to do in certain contexts or for stylistic reasons (like, "I fully intend to not fail the test this time!"). Similarly, you could have a negative phrase after a negative "I mean to" for stylistic reasons ("I didn't mean to offend them but, like, I didn't mean to NOT offend them either...").

On the other hand, putting the comma after "I didn't mean to" suggests we're no longer saying "I didn't mean to [do something]", but using the standalone phrase "I didn't mean to". Like you'd find in the exchange:

You didn't get milk like I asked!

Sorry! I meant to, but things got in the way.

Notice there "things got in the way" has nothing to do with what was meant, it's an additional independent clause (you could rewrite it as "I meant to get milk, but..."). In the case of "I meant to, not miss it", "not miss it" doesn't stand on its own as an independent clause, making the sentence as a whole nonsensical and indeed I'd say ungrammatical.

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