On world building meta I came across this sentence:

Now I truly believe that those that ask in this manner are not actually lazy and just expect us to do their work for them.

How is this sentence semantically correct? I understand from context that the negation is applied to lazy and expect, but shouldn't the sentence be like this ?

Now I truly believe that [they] are not actually lazy and don't just expect us to do their work for them.

Here it's ok with the context (even though it was a weird sentence to read), but if the two clauses where even slightly unrelated, i.e; if the first one didn't imply the second one, there would be no way to tell if the negation also applied to second clause or not.

Actually I'd expect the negation not to apply to the other clause at all, like in this sentence:

I believe he's really not intentionally disrespectful and just means well.

So is the sentence phrases in a weird way or is it normal? If so, how does it work?


2 Answers 2


You are correct, the sentence doesn't sound quite right. It could also be corrected this way, however:

Now I truly believe that those that ask in this manner are not actually lazy and but just expect us to do their work for them.

The original doesn't work because "and" joins the two statements together, but in this case the two statements are contrasting. One is negative because it is stating something that is not true, the other is positive because it is true. Therefore they should not be joined by "and" - the conjunction "but" is more appropriate because it shows they are in contrast.

For example:

I play tennis and not football. (incorrect)
I play tennis but not football. (correct)

  • Hmm, in general usage you hear people say things of the form of your 'incorrect' sport statement a fair amount of the time.
    – SamBC
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:42
  • FYI, Your correction, "Now I truly believe that those that ask in this manner are not actually lazy but just expect us to do their work for them." does not mean what the original sentence was intended to say. The logic of the thing indicates that the "not" was supposed to apply to the "lazy" and the "just expect us to do the work" parts.
    – Lorel C.
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:58
  • @SamBC: I agree with Astralbee's "incorrect" for the "general" case, but things can often change when X and not Y is a composite noun phrase acting as the subject of a verb - as in It was he and not she (who did something). Mar 28, 2019 at 15:06
  • @FumbleFingers Saying "it was he and not she" is not really the same because both clauses are true, whereas in the example above one is not true (they are not lazy) and the second statement is in contrast to that.
    – Astralbee
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:20
  • I don't get that. In OP's example the primary ambiguity is between 1: Subject is NOT X and [is also not] Y and 2: Subject is NOT X [and is in fact] Y. In #1, there's a potential "secondary" ambiguity regarding XOR and NOT (is the assertion that Subject is neither X nor Y, or that it's not both of them at once - but might still be either or neither?). But per my comment to the question, a comma / pause conveys as much intent as the specific conjunction used. Mar 28, 2019 at 15:36

The not here doesn't automatically apply to the other half of the and. Taking as written, the person is saying that they don't think people are lazy, and they do think they expect other people to do work for them.

The reason this sounds wrong is that you don't usually use and to join statements that seem contradictory or surprising when put together. You use but (or some other options). If they thought that they wanted people to do their work for them, and yet thought they weren't lazy, they should have used but. If they thought they weren't lazy, and weren't looking for other people to do their work for them, they should have negated the bit after the and as well, or phrased it differently in another way.

Now, a "not" like that can distribute over the and, apply to both things. To me, it doesn't here because one side of the and is an adjective, and the other is a verb phrase. That makes them more separate, separate clauses, than if they were both adjectives or both verb phrases.

  • I've added why it doesn't distribute here, while it can in other cases.
    – SamBC
    Mar 28, 2019 at 17:56

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