6

I've recently been told that "I don't think so" is, in the U.S.A., a southernism, whereas "I think not" is considered more acceptable everywhere else. Is this true?

Example:

Q: Is your wrist broken?
A: I don't think so. / I think not.

  • 1
    My impression was that "I don't think so" is an Americanism and "I think not" a Briticism. However, Google Ngrams disagrees; there isn't much difference in usage in the British and American Ngrams. – Peter Shor Feb 4 '12 at 23:46
8

I think not! In British English, I don't think so. and I think not. are both used, although they have different nuances.

I don't think so. is more common, and shows a little diffidence or uncertainty.

A: Is it going to rain today?

B: I don't think so. I'd just wear a t-shirt if I were you.

I think not. is used to disagree emphatically.

A: You still owe me.

B: I think not! If I hear any more from you about this, you'll be hearing from my solicitor.

Sorry, but I don't have any references I can cite. Just my personal experience.

|improve this answer|||||
  • I think not! The only reason that form seems more "emphatic" is because it's dated/format, so it calls more attention to the fact of disagreement. In common relaxed parlance, "I don't think so" often occurs in contexts where we're trying to downplay the disjunct (i.e. - we don't want to come right out and say "I disagree"). – FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 16:07
  • I'm confused. You wrote "I think not!" but you seem to be agreeing with me! I wrote diffidence and uncertainty: you wrote downplay the disjunct. Where's the difference? I wrote that I think not. is less common and is used to disagree emphatically: you wrote that it is dated and calls more attention to the fact of disagreement. Again, where's the difference? – Pitarou Feb 6 '12 at 8:07
  • On reflection I probably got carried away there. All I meant was that in and of themselves the two forms don't carry different meanings - it's just that the "dated/formal" one is more likely to be used only in certain situations. Often for emphasis, sometimes light-heartedly. I'll leave the first comment there because I still stand by that reasoning, but I fully accept it doesn't conflict with your answer (which I now somewhat belatedly upvote! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 13:35
4

I think not is a formal way of saying no. It's often used in parody, faux and overly dramatic situations, to heighten the negation and introduce a sense of inadequacy, foolishness and insignificance.

|improve this answer|||||
  • What about "I don't think so"? – Alenanno Feb 4 '12 at 22:59
  • 1
    Have you any evidence for these claims? – James Waldby - jwpat7 Feb 4 '12 at 23:00
  • @jwpat7: NGram doesn't handle apostrophes well, but in Google Books "I don't think so" outweighs "I do not think so" about 3:1. And "I think not", which used to be more common, is now perceived as archaic/stilted/formal. So effectively, Andrew is correct here. – FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 16:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.