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The sentence "It won't stop shortly" sounds wrong to me, and I'm inclined to change it to "It won't stop soon," but I'm not sure why, and my best guess is that "shortly" shouldn't be used with a negative sentence. Is this the case?

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    It sounds a little strange to me too, but I don't think it's wrong. If anything it sounds a little sarcastic. Otherwise your change is probably a good one.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 20:04
  • 2
    To me, "It won't stop soon" sounds a bit off. I have heard or seen this more often: "It won't stop any time soon."
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 20:20

2 Answers 2

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I think you're correct: you would not use "shortly" in a negative sentence. But it's not because of the negative, it's because "not doing something" doesn't happen at a specific time.

I explained it to myself by thinking about what question is answered by the word "shortly". In the sentence it will stop shortly, "shortly" answers the question "when will it stop?" If you wrote it will stop at 5 pm, you'd be saying a similar thing. In the negative, this substitution doesn't work: it won't stop shortly and it won't stop at 5 pm.

So, why is this?

I think it's because "not doing something" happens over a period of time, not all at once. The answer to the question when will it not stop? has a lot of answers. It won't stop now, and it won't stop in a second, and it will keep not stopping for a little while.

So what to do about it?

I think you should only use "shortly" to describe an action when there's a single answer to the question "when will it happen?" In the example you give, I think you have two good options:

  1. remove the negative. It will stop eventually
  2. deal with the fact that "not stopping" happens over a period of time by describing all the times it won't happen. It won't stop any time soon
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  • This made so much sense! Thank you for your detailed response.
    – Eva
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 0:58
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It can be used in a negative sentence, but it is less clear than using the word soon.

Shortly might mean the same as soon, but it also might mean "just for a moment." That's why I don't like it when the airlines say "we will land shortly" because I always imagine the plane touching the runway and then taking off immediately after.

So, your sentence It won't stop shortly might mean either

It won't stop soon.
It won't stop for a sort time.

And that latter confusing meaning disappears when you simply say

It won't stop soon.
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    I am just curious where did you find this: Shortly ... might mean "just for a moment.". I can't find it in Cambridge, Collins, or MW.
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 4:58
  • Possible confusion with "momentarily"?
    – Lorel C.
    Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 22:30

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