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In a rebuff to critics who say university has become little more than an expensive party, 84 percent of the responding undergraduates fully expected to prioritize their academics over extracurricular activities, sport, employment and their social lives. Not a single student put academics at the bottom of their list. Not content with confining themselves to their degree subject, 59 percent of incoming students expressed a desire to pursue a secondary field of study, and 36 percent hoped to learn a language.

Does this mean "Not only one student put academics at the bottom of their list, not only one student content with..."?

Here is the paragraph that involves this sentencepicture of the paragraph

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"Not a single.." IS potentially confusing. An inexperienced hearer might interpret it as "It is not the case that a single student put academics at the bottom of the list" leaving open the possibility that thirteen students did.

Instead it is used to give emphasis to the statement. In answer to the question "How many students put academics at the bottom of the list?", someone might reply "Not one", Not even one", "Not a single one", meaning in each case "Nobody did", but with a increasing degree of emphasis.

  • This is a great answer. As a native speaker, my first thought upon reading the question was "how can anyone not understand that. You have answered both the OP's question and mine. – Adam Jun 30 '17 at 16:37
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General meaning of the sentence

If you consider the list thing as an expression, you can rephrase it and see that the first sentence means: "every student gives a certain importance to academics". Indeed, "to put something at the bottom of your list" means "to give it the smallest priority, to consider it not important at all". If not a single student does that for academics, it means that they all give a certain importance to them.

In this very context

However, in this context, you see by the beginning of the paragraph that students took part in a kind of poll. They were expected to prioritize different activities by importance, most likely by making a list. The sentence you put in bold probably refers to this list. The results of the study show that from all the answers recovered from the students, there is not a single one where the student put academics at the bottom, meaning that not a single interrogated student considered that academics were the least important activity in their life.

Second part

As for the second part, it is used as a transition between the first information (every student gives importance to academics) to the second information (59% expressed a desire to pursue). The expression "not content with" is used as an addition. If you rephrase it, you can replace it by "Incoming students are not satisfied with focusing on their degree subject, so they expressed the desire to pursue [...]".

On a general aspect, it seems to me that this article's purpose is to emphasize the fact that young people actually consider studies a very important thing. It is probably an answer to some critics which were emitted previously, as states the very beginning of the paragraph: "in a rebuff to critics [...]".

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