Are these 2 examples both grammatically valid? Are there any differences in the tone or the meaning?

A. It may not seem strange.
B. It may seem not strange.

1 Answer 1


Case B. ("seem not strange") is rare to the point of oddity. It's used in two instances. The first is to bring a contrasting phrase with but close to the negation:

From The Last Guardian of Everness by J C Wright (2007):

[1] As in a dream shall all things seem, not strange, but familiar,....

The second is in conjunction with the now little-used subjunctive mood. From The Metaphysical Poets by T James (1988)

[2] [I]f by any occasion they be lost it seem not strange to us to pass it over.

Both A. and B. are grammatical and they mean the same thing, but given the age of some of the examples and the appearance of the construct in poetry, B. has (to me) a slightly archaic or literary tone.

  • As a general rule, it's the verb _ to seem_ which is negated rather than the adjective, unless it's a negative adjective (It may seem unpleasant...) Feb 4, 2020 at 9:27
  • @KateBunting Seem means to have some impression from the senses. I doubt that the verb is negated in "not seem." What would that opposite state entail, being insensate? Look at [1] and transpose to "a dream shall not seem strange but familiar." The dream still makes an impression, one of familiarity.
    – user105719
    Feb 4, 2020 at 10:33
  • I meant simply that we usually say that something does not seem [adjective] rather than seems [not adjective], unless the adjective itself includes a negative. However , seems not to be [adjective] is possible. Feb 4, 2020 at 13:02

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