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If I say "How much do you like him?", I'm asking about the degree to which someone is liking someone else (a male).

However, if I say "How much don't you like him?", I'm confused. The reason is that "You don't like him" is an absolute statement that is not subject to graduation?

Should it be interpreted as "not(how much do you like him)?", so it's a question of the degree to which the sentence becomes false?

The same goes with "How much can't you eat?".

I hope someone can provide an explanation :)

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    May be you wanted to ask: "How much do you dislike him?" Commented Feb 29 at 8:41
  • Yes, that sentence make sense to me, as it's not a negated statement. I can dislike someone to a degree. But, again a negated statement is absolute, it's not graduated
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 9:20
  • So, what you're saying is that How much don't you like him? should be understood as How much do you dislike him?, i.e. the opposite of "like"?
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 9:21
  • Thus, there may not always be an "opposite" of a word
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 9:22
  • Stretching usage to an extreme, you might say "How much do you not like him?"; there is such an instance here: "How much do you not let this child go places because you are afraid something will happen to him or her?".
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 29 at 11:23

2 Answers 2

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Those are not natural sentences for an English speaker. As you say, How much don't you like him? would be understood as an awkward and unidiomatic way of asking How much do you dislike him? How much can't you eat? is presumably a question about the maximum amount of food someone feels able to eat at that time.

How much? demands an answer giving a measurement of a positive quantity.

How much money have you in your pocket?

How much sugar would you like in your coffee?

This is just 'the way we say it in English'. If you are looking for a negative answer, in most contexts you either have to use a negative verb or change the question to How little?

How much do you dislike him?

"I didn't do much preparation for the exam." "How little did you actually do?"

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  • Thank you. Can you elaborate on this "How much? demands an answer giving a measurement of a positive quantity. If you are looking for a negative answer, you either have to use a negative verb or change the question to How little?"?
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 11:38
  • Doesn't "How much can't you eat?" probe for an answer to how large a quantity the receiver is unable to eat?
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 11:40
  • I would say that "How much can you eat" has the meaning of "a question about the maximum amount of food someone feels able to eat at that time"?
    – Shuzheng
    Commented Feb 29 at 11:41
  • A possible context for "How much can't you eat?" is if the person being addressed was allergic to certain foods and was asked how many dishes on a menu or a buffet table they needed to avoid (though "Which dishes can't you eat?" would be more natural). If it's just a question of quantity "How much can you eat?" would be a much more likely question. Commented Feb 29 at 13:20
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    There it is, context. The key sentence is goofy if it floats by itself. It fits well, however, as a response in a conversation. Context. If a friend says "Drop it. I don't like him. Get it?" you can ask teasingly, "How much don't you like him?" as though the dislike was a subtle mystery. Commented Feb 29 at 13:24
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There is no limit to the amount you cannot eat. You cannot eat 100 pounds of potatoes? I cannot eat 200 pounds of potatoes! No, 1000 pounds. A million pounds. There is only a limit to the amount you can eat. How much? is therefore unanswerable with "cannot eat".

How much do you hate him?

That can be answered. But what if you have no hate for him? How much don't you hate him? I don't hate him "at all". How much don't you hate him? I have no hate for him.

But we wouldn't ask the question in that way unless we were being deliberately playful with the rules of the language.

Some idiomatic versions:

Don't you hate him even a little?

Do you hate him to pieces?

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