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The sentence is

She was criticized by her fellow lawyers not because she was not hardworking, but because she so minutely prepared her cases that she failed to bring the expected number to trial

Does the bolded part mean that she is in reality hardworking or not hardworking?

Sorry if its basic question, I kinda get stuck when sentence has many negative words like above with multiple "not"

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    Try replacing the negated not hardworking with a single word meaning the opposite of hardworking, such as lazy. So her fellows lawyers criticised her - but not because she was lazy. In fact, they criticised her because she was so "hardworking" that she spent far too long preparing her cases (and consequently, she didn't complete enough cases, because she was spending too long on each one). Dec 23, 2021 at 14:09
  • Your statement "her fellows lawyers criticized her - but not because she was lazy", does it mean that not because lazy equate to hardworking? I thought not is contradicting reason for criticizing; I mean lets take a cheesy example, where Guy says to girl he hates her not because she is not beautiful ~= hates her not because she is ugly, doesnt it mean that she is ugly but guy hates her for different reason?
    – Jax Hammer
    Dec 23, 2021 at 14:13
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    Yes. Approximately, not hardworking = lazy. So She was criticized by her fellow lawyers not because she was lazy (but actually, because she was too hardworking). Dec 23, 2021 at 15:07
  • The sentence could use some rewriting though. The double negative is a bit Bill-and-Ted. "Most non-non-non-non heinous." It would probably be clearer if it could be rewritten without the double neg. Maybe "not about how hard she worked" or something along those lines.
    – Dan
    Dec 23, 2021 at 20:00
  • Yes I guess I understood this, this is of pattern "not A but B" where A is opposite to B and is confusingly written as not of not A as in "not because its not A but B" where in reality A is the property of subject that persists, thanks @FumbleFingers
    – Jax Hammer
    Dec 23, 2021 at 21:49

1 Answer 1

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The sentence,

"She was criticized by her fellow lawyers not because she was not hardworking"

means that the reason she was criticized was for something other than her work ethic. It can be interpreted in multiple ways, unfortunately:

  • (1) she was "not not hardworking", meaning that she was either hardworking or neutral (not considered hardworking, and not not considered lazy either).
  • (2) she was "not hardworking" but this was not the reason she was criticized.

The bottom line is that with sentences like these can be ambiguous and if you want to be crystal clear to someone, it's better to avoid this issue altogether by writing something like:

  • "She was criticized despite being a hard worker, because she failed to bring the expected number of cases to trial" if the intention is to say that she was hardworking, and
  • "The fact that she was not hardworking was not the reason why she was criticized. She was criticized more for her failure to bring the expected number of cases to trial" if the intention is to convey that she was not hardworking.

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