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I read a linguistic paper saying that the two sentences have opposite meanings.

  1. For no money would she leave.
  2. For no money she would leave.

The paper says...

(1) means she wouldn't leave even if she got no money.
(2) means she would leave because she got no money.

The source is Goldberg, Adele, Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalization in Language (Oxford, 2005; online edn, Oxford Academic, 1 Sept. 2007) and this example is on the page 172. She says on the book:

The negative implication conveyed by SAI (Subject-Auxiliary Inversion) can be seen by comparing (1) and (2). Example (1) implies that even with money offered as incentive she would not quit, while (2) expresses that she would quit with the slightest incentive (Jackendoff 1972; LakoV and Brugman 1987; Newmeyer 2000).

And I'm surprised because both of them sounds the same to me because all the words are the same and the only difference is the order of those.

The paper says the order is semantically important as you see, which is so interesting! Do you guys really feel the opposite meanings in this case?

Or, is the paper just too pedantic?

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    Short answer: yes, they definitely mean different things. "The paper says the order is semantically important as you see, which is so interesting!" - but order is semantically important in English: that's what makes the difference between "the cat chased the dog" and "the dog chased the cat", too.
    – stangdon
    Feb 25, 2023 at 16:22
  • It's a rather "artificial" example, because in practice native speakers would be very unlikely to say (1). They'd say She would not leave for any money (no amount of money would persuade her to leave). Nor would they say (2) as given above - they'd say She would leave for nothing (no money is needed to persuade here to leave). Feb 25, 2023 at 16:53
  • I seriously doubt these examples came from a native Anglophone, but whether it's a mistranscription or not, (1) means she wouldn't leave even if she got no money is complete nonsense anyway. Feb 25, 2023 at 16:56
  • @FumbleFingers I noticed that, too, when I read it. I think that "no" shouldn't be there, but I don't want to edit the question because I'm not sure exactly what the paper said. (OP: Please cite your source!) Feb 25, 2023 at 18:46
  • @stangdon Yes; perhaps it's worth mentioning here that English is a mostly analytic language. Feb 25, 2023 at 18:48

2 Answers 2

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Yes, they are different.

With a preposed negative adverbial like for no money, we expect the sentence to be inverted, the preposed adverbial has an emphatic reading, and the main clause is within the scope of the negative. So

For no money would she leave.

means something like "however much money was offered to her, she would not leave".

This construction is reasonably common with expressions like "never", and "nowhere" - though even with them it sounds rather literary, and most people would not say these in normal conversation.

But without the inversion, this does not read as the same construction: "for no money" is not emphatic, and the negative remains within that phrase and does not have scope over the matrix clause.

For no money she would leave.

would be interpreted as "If she were not given any money, she would leave" - so yes, more or less the reverse of the first case.

However this is a very unnatural way to express it.

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    It may be worth noting that although For nothing would he stop and For nothing he would stop are just about credible utterances with opposite meanings, the more natural sequence He would stop for nothing is basically ambiguous - nothing is enough to stop him / nothing is required to stop him. Feb 25, 2023 at 20:09
  • I'm sorry the sentences you said are still confusing to me. "... would he stop" means nothing wouldn't stop him, and "... he would stop" means he would stop and there is no reason. Am I right?
    – Englishy
    Feb 26, 2023 at 6:50
  • @Englishy: the sentences are confusing, and that's one of the reasons why they are very unlikely to be said (as Fumblefingers said). I'm not sure what you mean, because "Nothing wouldn't stop him" is a "double negative", and might mean (common but non-standard) "there is nothing that would stop him" or (standard but very unusual) "there is nothing that would not stop him".
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 26, 2023 at 11:05
  • @ColinFine Oh sorry that's just a mistake. I meant "Nothing would stop him" vs "He would stop and there is no reason"
    – Englishy
    Feb 26, 2023 at 13:39
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This is really fascinating. I haven't read the paper, so you just get some nasty "native speaker intuition", but it's true. The default understanding would be (as they say) #1 you can't pay enough to get rid of her, #2 she'll go without paying. You could interpret these sentences in the opposite way, but it's not the way you would expect. (Try shifting the prepositional phrase around: "she would leave for no money" is absolutely unambiguous.)

Another native-speaker intuition: "For no money would she leave" sounds rather poetic-archaic. If you wanted to convey that meaning today (in British English) you would almost certainly say "she wouldn't leave for ANY (amount of) money". Go figure.

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