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How many of you despised him unfairly? / How many of you didn’t despise him unfairly?

How much money did you throw away last month? / How much money didn’t you throw away last month?

Once all questions above are rhetorical, they're technically equivalent. But I want to know if the negative ones have more emphasis (like it happens in my native languague) of if it doesn't work like that in English.

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    money is uncountable (how ironic) so 'how much money...........' Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 9:01
  • @Louisr - what is your native language, and can you give an example, in that language, of this negative emphasis of which you speak? Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 19:41
  • @MichaelHarvey my language is Brazilian Portuguese. Any of the examples I gave works in Portuguese, but the ones using negative sound better.
    – Louisr
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 13:35
  • @BruceMurray thank you for observing that
    – Louisr
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 13:36
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    @Louisr The negative also works for emphasis in my native language, but I've never seen it in English, so I'm tempted to say it's unidiomatic.
    – Wehage
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 13:39

2 Answers 2

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'How much money did you throw away last month?' Here we are implying that the person has thrown money away but the tone of the question lacks any context or judgement.

'How much money didn’t you throw away last month?' Here, clearly, we are inferring that this person is always throwing money away (is a notorious wastrel) and we want to know what little amount he managed to save. So, the second can be used to show a mocking disapproval.

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  • It makes sense. Considering what you said, it was not a good example. What do you think of the other sentence: “How many of you didn’t despise him unfairly?”
    – Louisr
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 19:21
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Yes, this construct is seen in English.

The rhetorical context is often the following.

"Okay, own up -- hands up who despised him unfairly." A sea of bashful hands.

"Hm. Perhaps it would have been easier to have said: hands up who did not despise him unfairly."

The questioner asks such a question of a group, expecting the minority to answer yes. However, on finding out that he or she was wrong, and in fact the majority answered yes, he or she then comments (perhaps ironically) that there would have been fewer to count if he or she had asked the converse.

There is often a hint of irony tacitly assumed here.

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  • Why the downvote? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 14:59
  • (The downvote is not mine). Your example uses affirmative paired with negative, so I’m not sure how would it work if it was a simple question: “Who did not despise him unfairly?”, when the interlocutor is not expecting an answer, but actually making an accusation.
    – Louisr
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 19:31

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