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In a conversation, a man said, "my parents got me a bad guitar 'cause they did not think I was gonna stick with it."

I am a little confused about why that sentence is correct, because if I were to say the same thing I would have said, "my parents got me a bad guitar 'cause they thought I was not gonna stick with it."

Please tell which one of the sentences sounds more correct and native, or if there is any other way of saying the same thing.

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    The difference is which statement is negative. The first sentence means that they didnt think you gonna stick with it. While the second sentence means that "You were not gonna stick with it" is what they thought. – user178049 Nov 21 '16 at 5:04
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    Has your study of English taught you that cause is a preposition and that gonna is a verb? The entire sentence is cast in the colloquial, so it really doesn't much matter whether you negate think or stick. They are both just fine. – P. E. Dant Nov 21 '16 at 7:40
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Short answer: Both alternatives are grammatical. Between the two alternatives:

a) They didn't think I was gonna stick with it, and
b) They think I wasn't gonna stick with it,

a) is more natural and this syntactic phenomenon is called negative raising (or neg-raising).


I understand that from a learner's eye, it looks more natural to embed an original idea in the negative in a think-clause directly. However, it's more natural in English to raise the negation to the main clause when the main clause has a certain word (or technically, a predicate) such as: think, believe, want, seem, suppose, likely, and ought to.1

It might be counter-intuitive to learn that negative raising is the more natural/usual choice (if you want to dig deeper, search for marked-unmarked or markedness). But if you consider a little different sentence pair2, you may instantly see why:

c) I didn't claim anything.
d) I claim nothing.

Even though both sentences are semantically equivalent, I bet you can feel that d) is much stronger than c). (And thus, c) is the more natural/usual (i.e., unmarked) choice.)

1See more details at http://www2.let.uu.nl/uil-ots/lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=negative+raising
2The sentence pair was taken from Negation in the History of English, p. 55


BONUS: This excerpt from Syntax and Metonymy also explains it quite well:

The sentence

    John doesn't think this novel is good.

is usually interpreted not as a statement about what John doesn't think but as a statement about what he does think. He does think this novel is not good. Similarly, the sentence

    John doesn't want to leave early.

normally conveys John's positive desire not to leave early. This phenomenon has been referred to as Neg-raising (??, 19??) and as negative absorption (Klima, 1964).

  • Interesting. To me, the meanings are actually different. Take C and D for example. C says there was an absence of claiming ("silent on the matter"). D says I affirmatively made a claim (in which I made an assertion of nothing). – fixer1234 Mar 25 '17 at 5:01
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First off, you write because or 'cause instead of cause.

Both are correct. However, the first sentence with 'they didn't think' is preferable.

According to Cambridge English grammar, when we use think to express uncertainty about something, we usually put not with think rather than in the clause that comes afterwards

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The two phrases "did not think I would" and "thought I wouldn't" are strictly synonymous, because negating the first verb (did not think to thought) is followed by negating the second (would to wouldn't).

Similarly you can say, "I did not believe that it was true" or "I believed that it was false". It's simply a matter of whether you want to emphasize the positive form of the verb (I thought), or the negated form (I did not think). The rest of the sentence just adjusts to finish out the idea:

"I thought you were joking!" vs "I didn't think you meant it!"
"I thought I knew what was going on." vs "I didn't think I was confused."
"I wanted to take him with me." vs "I didn't want to leave him behind."

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