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"How can't you not like this tune?"

I understand the sentence means "it is almost impossible not to like this tune. Everybody likes it." And the structure of the sentence with two negatives seems to emphasize the impossibility of not liking the tune. I see this usage sometimes, although I am not sure if this is just colloquial usage.

However, I noticed that without two negatives, the sentence would still mean the same. Or at least this is what I think. Let's compare:

"How can't you not like this tune?"

"How can you not like this tune"?

They more or less mean the same to me, but I am not sure. So, I wonder if we have to use the 1st structure to mean the impossibility of not liking the tune? Or do we not need it since the second sentence structure is enough to refer to that impossibility of not liking it.?

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  • A dedundant negative? Such as What does "there ain't no one for to give you no pain" mean? Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 19:40
  • Related on ELU site: Are double negatives ever appropriate in English? Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 19:42
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    How can't you not like this tune? is a very unusual, non-standard phrasing, and sounds wrong to me. Did you see this used somewhere, by a native speaker?
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 20:48
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    How can't you... is probably unusual enough that there can be no consensus on what it means. Either it was a mistake, or it's part of an idiolect or a dialect that's so small only the speakers themselves could tell you what it means.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 21:40
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    @stangdon, most of where I have seen used this type of usage is social media. However, some people above mention that "double negatives" are standard English. For instance "When I see someone in trouble, I can't not help." If this is an example of double-negative, it sounds perfectly fine. So, how is this different from the sentence "How can't you not like this tune"? Isn't this also a double-negative question?
    – Yunus
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 0:56

1 Answer 1

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The first structure is more or less meaningless. I've tried reading it slowly and trying to work out what it means by logic. I've tried reading it quickly and hoping that "intuition" will suggest a meaning - both attempts failed. I think it would never be used intentionally.

The second "How can you.." sentence is fine. The idiom "How can you" expresses incredulity at a statement, action or belief of another.

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  • I have read about "double-negatives". For instance "When I see someone in trouble, I can't not help." If this is an example of double-negative, it sounds perfectly fine. So, how is this different from the sentence "How can't you not like this tune"? Isn't this also a double-negative question?
    – Yunus
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 0:59
  • Because "How can you" is an idiom, It doesn't work in the negative.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 6:24

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