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Can the words "right" and "wrong" be considered to be grammatical affirmatives and negatives?

Consider the sentence "I am not wrong." This can be simplified to "I am right." because the words "right" and "wrong" are a binary pair of descriptors; they have polarity as it is described in this wikipedia page. The above wikipedia page defines affirmatives and negatives as follows:

Essentially an affirmative (positive) form is used to express the validity or truth of a basic assertion, while a negative form expresses its falsity.

The above description seems to perfectly apply to the words "right" and "wrong". The wikipedia page goes on to additionally describe the required trait of polarity for affirmatives and negatives, whereby an affirmative and negative are part of a binary operation, which is clearly true of "right" and "wrong". Additionally, the fact that "not" and "wrong" can cancel out, leaving behind the affirmative "right" seems to indicate that "right" and "wrong" could be considered to be affirmatives and negatives. The cancelation in "I am not wrong" seemingly indicates the presence of a double negative, which would imply that "wrong" is a negative.


I believe that the above paragraphs summarizes the argument in favor of "right" and wrong being affirmatives and negatives; here is the counter-argument which led to my confusion.


Firstly, according to the above wikipedia page, negatives generally have a prefix or suffix (such as non-, un- or in-) denoting the role as a negative; examples of positive and negative pairs would therefore include "likely" and "unlikely" or "consequential" and "inconsequential". The words "right" and "wrong" do not contain one of these linguistic markers, and therefore do not appear to be positives or negatives.

Furthermore (counterintuitively), it is not actually entirely clear how to determine which word between "right" and "wrong" is the positive, and which is the negative. This is because while "not wrong" can be simplified to "right", "not right" can also be simplified to "wrong". This confusion arises from the lack of the aforementioned prefixes and suffixes that mark positives and negatives.

So, are "right" and "wrong" an affirmative/negative pair or not?

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  • By the way, looking up the definitions of "Affirmative" and "Negative" in a dictionary did nothing to clear this up, and neither did looking up "right" and "wrong" merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affirmative merriam-webster.com/dictionary/negative merriam-webster.com/dictionary/right merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wrong – Noah May 2 at 19:54
  • That depends on what you mean by affirmative/negative pair. For question tags, you say I am wrong, aren't I? which means that for question tags (as well as for many other aspects of grammar), I am wrong is a positive sentence. You would also say I'm not wrong, am I? which means that for question tags, I'm not wrong is a negative sentence. – Peter Shor May 2 at 19:57
  • Yes, right/wrong form an affirmative/negative pair. "Negatives generally have a prefix or suffix" means they may not always have them. – Yosef Baskin May 2 at 20:02
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    Looking up grammatical terms in dictionaries does nothing to clear anything up. You look in grammars for grammatical items and dictionaries for lexical items. As it happens, Negative is a grammatical term, with a precise definition, but "Affirmative" isn't. And, while right and wrong can be considered opposites, but neither one is technically Negative. – John Lawler May 2 at 21:12
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In some contexts, yes.

Example:

"Not that car?" asked Emma.

"Wrong," answered her dad flatly, looking her straight in the eye.

"That car?"

"Right."

"That one?"

"Right."

"The fugly, green clunker right there?"

"Right."

"So that's really the car you're buying me, your only daughter?"

"Right."

"You're not kidding?"

"Right."

"Oh, so you are kidding?"

"Wrong."

"Man, this blows!"

"Right."

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  • See how clear it all is? – John Lawler May 2 at 21:07
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Sometimes "not wrong" may not mean "right".

Examples from mathematics:

2+3 = 5
It is right. It is not wrong.

2+3 = 7
It is not right. It is wrong.

=235+
It is not right. It is not wrong. It is meaningless.

Also see Not even wrong

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