Please take a look at the following example:

Let's see if we can't get there before they get back.

I'm pretty sure the sentence is grammatical and its semantic is quite similar to:

Let's see if we can get there before they get back.

But then what's the point of using the first version?

In my language the situation is similar and we use it as the speaker is giving the sentence extra emphasis by using the negative form.

Consequently, by checking if the opposite of one thing is impossible then the thing we want to do must be possible.

What about in English? Please let me know your thoughts on this.

  • Nice question. I think it is a periphrasis for try which presents the possibility of failure as a challenge, to elicit best efforts. Let's try hard to get there before they get back.
    – TimR
    Mar 31, 2018 at 17:12
  • So, a literary device, right, @Tᴚoɯɐuo ? Mar 31, 2018 at 17:18
  • No, not literary. It's definitely colloquial.
    – TimR
    Mar 31, 2018 at 17:19
  • Oh, l see... @Tᴚoɯɐuo. Mar 31, 2018 at 17:20
  • It is a way of inviting a "buy-in" to the goal. It might be paraphrased as "C'mon..." that is, "Come on".
    – TimR
    Mar 31, 2018 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


It's trying to convey that you are going to be making the attempt that could fail but might not. They are saying we might as well try to beat the others to getting there first.

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