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“Let’s go, then,” he said, taking his cloak, his sword, and his three pistols, and uselessly opening three or four drawers to see if he might not find a stray pistole.

How can I understand the usage of 'not' here, even when the character is actually looking to find a stray pistole and not 'to not' find a one. (this being a translation of the three musketeers).

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Good question. It's just a rather stylistic way to say the same thing as the positive.

Grammatically, it gets paired with some element of doubt. In this case it's the "might", the vestige of the subjunctive. (Hence, it sounds slightly outdated, insofar as the reader finds that use of the subjunctive outdated.)

It's a fine night. I wonder if I mightn't enjoy a walk. Will you join me?

Another, more common example of a "doubtful" environment is questions:

Aren't you Alexandre Dumas?

But in either case, it's just a hint of the subjunctive and its doubtful character, without actually introducing a negative meaning.

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  • thank you so much, I appreciate your time and effort.
    – rasha
    Mar 28 at 14:37

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