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Have I not been cleaning the house?

or

Have I been not cleaning the house?

Which one is correct? I saw both of them in the same grammar book but I can't trust that book completely.

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  • 1
    They mean different things.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 23, 2020 at 22:34
  • Can you explain that means please?
    – Social Network
    Feb 23, 2020 at 22:49
  • 3
    Both of these are consciously archaic language, and no one would say them except as a joke, so they don't have any official grammar. It should be Haven't I been cleaning the house?, with a question mark, since it's a question. Auxiliary verbs and negatives normally contract, forming an auxiliary verb that gets fronted by question formation. If that doesn't happen, it draws attention to the grammar instead of to the meaning, which is why nobody talks that way. Feb 23, 2020 at 23:03

1 Answer 1

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I think this will become more clear if we rearrange the words so that they're statements instead of questions:

Have I not been cleaning the house --> I have not been cleaning the house

Have I been not cleaning the house --> I have been not cleaning the house

In the first case, "I have not been" is simply the negative form of "I have been", so this is saying/asking whether somebody has been cleaning the house or not. In answer to your question, this is the more correct form, in general.

For the second one, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure whether it's grammatically correct or not, but at the very least it sounds odd. It seems to be saying that you have been doing something to the house and the thing you've been doing to it is "not cleaning" it (and I'm not sure what that means).

Also, as mentioned by John Lawler, while the phrase "have I not" is definitely grammatically correct, it is generally considered outdated English nowadays, and it's much more common for someone to say something like:

Haven't I been cleaning the house?

(Someone might still occasionally use the "have I not" form if they're being poetic or flowery in their language, or to add emphasis to their question, but it's unusual.)

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  • The second statement, to me, looks like "I have not been cleaning the house when I was supposed to", or "I have not cleaned the house in [specify time here]". The question could possibly mean "Does this cleaning agent not work/actually make the house dirtier?"
    – Haem
    Aug 11, 2020 at 9:34

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