1

Is there a difference between these two:

1 Hadn't you better marry him?

2 Had you better not marry him?

It seems to me that 1 means "I recommend marrying him" and 2 means "I advise against marrying him".

Do you see this difference or am I seeing it?

4
  • 2
    Yes, you are correct. Apr 5 at 10:16
  • It's the same as, for example, Aren't you John Smith? and Are you not John Smith?, or Isn't he coming? and Is he not coming? The non-contracted versions will often (but not always) seem a bit stilted / dated in normal conversational contexts. Apr 5 at 10:55
  • @ FumbleFingers Somehow I don't feel that the difference in your examples is as clear-cut as in mine. It's only my feeling of course.
    – user1425
    Apr 5 at 11:02
  • 1
    Yes, you're right. Offhand I can't think of any other versions of this particular "negation + possible contraction" ambiguity apart from this to have better not one, but maybe someone else can think of more examples. Apr 5 at 11:12
1

For most purposes, OP's cited examples are the same as, for example,...

Aren't you John Smith?
Are you not John Smith?1
or
Isn't he coming?
Is he not coming?

The non-contracted versions will often (but not always) seem a bit stilted / dated in normal conversational contexts, but normally that's the only difference. BUT in the specific case of negated non-contracted to have better [do something], there's potential scope for ambiguity that doesn't usually apply to this construction.

Had you better not go? is "naturally" interpreted the same as Hadn't you better go? (speaker suggesting to addressee that he should go). But some people would understand It would be better if you didn't go (esp. depending on the spoken stress pattern as noted below).


1 In a real-world spoken context, if speaker was asking for confirmation that the person he was talking to wasn't John Smith, he'd put heavy stress on the word not (making it obviously the total opposite of the contracted version, where not has been so far reduced it doesn't even contain a vowel to carry that stress! :)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .