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I saw what I thought was a double negative in this sentence from Norwegian Wood

I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression.

The double negative in this sentence really confuses me. I interpret it as "I'm keeping to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression", but I feel like it should be interpreted as "I didn't think of it as something that would make a lasting impression until recently.", but I don't know how it can be interpreted in grammar to the latter version.

The first negative is, of course, ‘never’ - and I thought ‘stopped’ is the second negation. This is how I was thinking about it:

I never think → I haven't thought
I stopped to think → I didn't think

So

I never stopped to think → I was and still am thinking

And now I am confusing myself.

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    Maybe I was wrong, I thought never stopped to think is the double negation. It confused me a lot. – HFX Apr 26 at 10:00
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    So far as I'm concerned, I never imagined X and X never occurred to me... are standard ways of indicating that some thought X never crossed my mind (often, because X wasn't an "obvious, natural" thing to think, at the time). But saying I never stopped to think X implies that I would have thought X, if I hadn't been in such a hurry (where oftentimes X would have been a relatively obvious thing to realise, but in my haste I overlooked it). – FumbleFingers Apr 26 at 16:17
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    "Stopped to think" is almost idiomatic -> "I stopped [doing everything else] for the purpose of concentrating on thinking". – J... Apr 26 at 18:22
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    The confusion is that "stopped" here means "paused" (eg. stopped moving), not "ceased" – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Apr 26 at 20:35
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    The point that several answers have not made explicit is that stop can only take an -ing clause, and never an infinitive clause. There is no logic or rule to this: it is just a property that the verb stop has. This means that if it is followed by a to clause, that cannot be the complement of stop, but must have another meaning: most obviously a purpose clause. – Colin Fine Apr 27 at 18:55
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There is a difference between

I [never] stopped to think

and

I [never] stopped thinking

In the second, thinking is the object, it's the thing that does (or doesn't) get stopped. The negation in the sentence "I never stopped thinking of it in this way" resolves to "I thought of it in this way and I continue thinking of it just the same."

In the first, we don't have an object. We have an intention or a purpose. Without an object, this verb is ergative or labile or unaccusative -- whatever label you prefer for the kind of verb that, in another language, uses the middle voice. It's not the thinking that is stopped; it's me that stops.

So, "I never stopped to think" means that I never paused for that purpose, I never took the time to do that bit of thinking. I was too busy for the idea to even occur to me.

In another sentence and especially with another verb, an infinitive like this can be an object. If I say "I want to help", then "to help" does act as an object, and it is the thing that I want.

It doesn't seem that you're confused about the negation. You're confused about the role of the phrasing "to think of it as...". You're interpreting it as a direct object of a transitive "stopped". The writer intends that you interpret it as an adjunct of purpose or reason, and to interpret "stopped" as an intrasitive and unaccusative usage of the verb.

Under that interpretation, "never stopped to think" means something close to "never took the time to have the idea".

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    I [never] stopped to think is grammatically similar, I think, to I [never] stopped at that stop sign. – RonJohn Apr 27 at 6:30
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    Or, I stopped [in order] to buy coffee. I stopped [in order] to think. I never stopped [in order] to think. – stan Apr 27 at 17:40
  • @Gary Botnovcan: Wonderful answer! Just a little doubt remains, though; or maybe it's the whole point of the question,after all. I dont know. We know that infinitives and gerunds are interchangeable in most cases: I like [swimming]; I like [to swim], etc. Why doesn't this rule apply here as well? Is this because the verb happens to be stopped in this case? – user40475 Apr 28 at 18:36
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    @User40475 Gerunds and infinitives are not generally interchangeable in my mind as a native speaker--they are in some situations such as the one you described, but there are numerous situations like this (and any case with stop, as far as I can think of) where they aren't. I can't speak for all native speakers, but I've never really thought of them as interchangeable at least. – Hearth Apr 29 at 6:20
  • @Hearth: Thank you very much! – user40475 Apr 29 at 6:32
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As the other answers have said this isn't a double negative.

Your confusion seems to come from the interpretation of the phrase "stopped to think" which has a very different meaning from "stopped thinking". "stopped to x" means you paused in order to start to do x. "Stopped x" means you ceased to do x

A different way to write this sentence with the same meaning would be

I have never paused in order to think of it as...

This is also grammatically correct and has nearly the same meaning

I have never thought of it as...

The difference is very subtle. The first sentence implies that if the speaker had taken the time to pause and think about the topic they would have come to a different conclusion. The second sentence simply states that they have never had this thought.

If you wanted to write a sentence with the meaning you are thinking of " I was and still am thinking" you could say

I have never stopped thinking of it as...

If you wanted to write something that means "I'm keeping to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression" you could say

I have always thought of it as...

or

I always think of it as...

If you wanted to write sentences you gave as examples these would be their meanings:

I never think (about xyz) → In the present I do not [ever] think (about xyz)

I haven't thought (about xyz) → In the past I have not [ever] thought (about xyz)

I stopped to think (about xyz) → I paused what I was doing and then thought (about xyz)

I didn't think (about xyz) → I failed to consider (xyz) in the past (This implies I should have thought about something)

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It isn't a double negative. "Never" is the only negation.

I never stopped to think

is a fairly common idiom. It means "I didn't take the time to think".

The sentence could be re-written as "If I'd thought about it (but I didn't), I might have realised that it could make a lasting impression".

You can use the same construction in a positive way as well.

When you stop to think about it, tadpoles turning into frogs is pretty weird.

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It's kind of a short way to say:

I never stopped [everything else I was doing] to think [about this particular topic].

meaning... "I was vaguely aware of something but never spent the time to consider it fully."

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