What is the exact difference in meaning between:

  • Should there not be a sign here?
  • Should not there be a sign here?
  • Should there be not a sign here?

My research tells me that:

  • 1st - There could be a sign here, but nobody put one.
  • 2nd - There should be a sign here, but nobody put one.
  • 3rd - There are or is a sign here while there shouldn't be any.

1 Answer 1


(1) is gramatically correct but sounds rather odd. I don't know how you've arrived at the conclusion that "should" means "could" though. The meaning is exactly the same as example (2).

(2) means what your research tells you. However, questions of this type are usually written and spoken using the contraction "shouldn't", i.e.

Shouldn't there be a sign here?

(3) is just wrong. To get the meaning that you've indicated, that there is a sign where there possibly shouldn't be one you would say:

Is this sign supposed/meant to be here?

  • I disagree over "Is this sign supposed/meant to be here?" I think then it's better to say "Shouldn't there be no sign here?" Dec 7, 2016 at 9:48
  • And yeh, thanks, I know about the contraction! I just didn't place in order to establish a clear view. Dec 7, 2016 at 9:49
  • "Shouldn't there be no..." does make sense if you're really intent on using "should" but double negatives should generally be avoided as they are difficult to parse for the hearer/reader. Hence it's considered better style and more natural to frame the question positively.
    – D. Nelson
    Dec 7, 2016 at 9:53
  • I agree, but the double negative here makes everything clear. Example: "Shouldn't you not be at work today? I thought you were ill." Dec 7, 2016 at 9:56
  • It might be clear to you because you wrote it and so you know what meaning was intended. It's not clear to others though; "Shouldn't you not be at work today?" sounds really strange as well. In fact, if I heard someone say that, I would think they had made a mistake, and meant to ask "Shouldn't you be at work today". I would recommend avoiding double negatives completely. I would rather say: Shouldn't you be off work today?
    – D. Nelson
    Dec 7, 2016 at 10:05

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