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Is there a difference between the following two sentences? Is the second sentence grammatically wrong?

Why would we not expect the body to revolt?

Why wouldn't we expect the body to revolt?

Is it correct to say the first sentence puts an emphasis on the negation, meaning that it's a bit shocking that we do not have that expectation?

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  • “Wouldn’t we” is more commonly used than “would we not” which sounds more literary. Both are correct. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 22:37
  • 2
    The first one allows the possibility of considering not expect as a complex predicate, as if someone had mentioned the possibility in prior discourse. The other question doesn't have that possibility, so it would be more natural in certain contexts where the other wouldn't. But normally one should contract auxiliaries and negatives wherever possible. Not contracting them draws attention to the auxiliary instead of the main verb. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 22:40
  • See also: quora.com/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 22:40
  • I see no difference in meaning at all. That said, the second wouldn't normally be found in writing or written form. And if you are at all interested in spoken English, that's the type of form you need to learn and use.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 15:01

2 Answers 2

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In a comment, John Lawler scholared:

The first one allows the possibility of considering not expect as a complex predicate, as if someone had mentioned the possibility in prior discourse. The other question doesn't have that possibility, so it would be more natural in certain contexts where the other wouldn't. But normally one should contract auxiliaries and negatives wherever possible. Not contracting them draws attention to the auxiliary instead of the main verb.

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  • So he scholared because he was speaking "ex-cathedra"?
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 14:58
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    @Lambie Correct. He's a citable authority on English negatives.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 15:04
  • You misunderstood me. He didn't actually "scholar" anything here. He is a scholar and he wrote a comment. Not a paper. The not expect argument is a matter of a pinion.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 15:21
  • @Lambie Stack Exchange invites you to write answers of your own device and liking.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 16:08
  • @tchrist SE prizes scholarly answers. Hence my usual lurking in the comments. // I'll throw in that these could both be seen as rhetorical questions (though, after finding an 'authority'-to-my-liking that allows these without the question marks, I'd distinguish these usages accordingly). Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:29
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Both sentences are correct, and there is not much practical difference between them. The second one contracts "would" with "not". That affects the word order, but that is perfectly normal for such contractions. Contractions tend to be found to a greater extent in casual writing, colloquial speech, etc. Other than that, I see no major difference between the sentences.

There is a (somewhat minor) difference in pronunciation. In the first sentence, you could stress "not", but in the second, you couldn't stress the clitic "n't".

I'm a bit confused about your last question: "Is it correct to say the first sentence puts an emphasis on the negation, meaning that it's a bit shocking that we do not have that expectation?" Your sentences seem to indicate that we DO have that expectation.

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