The difference between ‘You didn’t notice anything unusual?’ and ‘Didn’t you notice anything unusual?’ ?

I think the later is better, and the former is like a Chinese way. Could you tell me the difference?


Both sentences use correct grammar and mean almost exactly the same thing. The differences are:

  • the level of formality
  • whether the questioner thinks something unusual was present or not
  • and how much a particular answer is assumed

You didn't notice anything unusual?

  • No, I didn't ~80%
  • Yes, I did ~20%

This is informal, and assumes that if it was a statement ("You didn't notice anything unusual"), it would be true. It expects the answer: "No, I didn't" which agrees with the assumption, although responding "Yes, I did" is possible and would probably surprise the questioner as it disagrees with their assumption. The questioner may or may not think that something unusual was present.

Didn't you notice anything unusual?

  • Yes, I did ~60%
  • No, I didn't ~40%

This is formal with less assumption. The assumption (if any) could go either way. The questioner most likely thinks there was something unusual present. They may assume it was noticeable, unnoticeable, or be unsure/neutral about it. The questioner might be more likely to think that the other person noticed the unusual thing.

These are both types of leading questions (encouraging one answer more than others). The difference in formality is only slight: you could use them both in a courtroom for example. The most neutral way to ask is:

Did you notice anything unusual?

  • Yes, I did ~50%
  • No, I didn't ~50%

It's still possible to make assumptions with this question, but communicating the assumptions becomes weaker.

Making this informal gives:

You noticed something unusual?

  • Yes, I did ~80%
  • No, I didn't ~20%

which breaks the neutrality as it once again makes an assumption ("Yes, I did"), however strong or weak it may be perceived. Since it's a statement as a question, "not any(thing)" becomes "some(thing)", otherwise in a formal question you can remove "not" without changing "anything".

It can also be made very informal by dropping certain words from the formal question, and changing the tense from simple past tense to simple present tense:

Notice anything unusual?

  • Yes, I do ~50%
  • No, I don't ~50%

This is so informal it would be out of place in a courtroom. It's also possible to answer this in the past tense, if the context makes the question clear.

Notice anything unusual last week?

  • Yes, I did ~50%
  • No, I didn't ~50%

Let's look at your questions one at a time.

You didn't notice anything unusual?

This looks like a statement with a question mark put at the end. If you removed the question mark, you would think it was a statement of fact: "You didn't notice anything unusual." I would not have known you meant this to be a question if you hadn't put a question mark on the end. This seems to be an example of a spoken question that has been written down. This sentence becomes a question when speaking because of the tone of voice you use. Even though it looks like a statement of fact when written, if you say it with a questioning tone in your voice the hearer will perceive it as a question.

Didn't you notice anything unusual?

On the other hand, your other sentence could clearly be seen as a question even if you had left off the question mark. The auxiliary verb "do" has been moved to the front of the sentence. In this case it takes the form of "did," the simple past. It is written in the form of a question, not a statement.

So to answer you question, the first question is an example of a spoken question that has been written down, and the second question is a question in its normal written form.

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