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I came across this sentence online and it just sounds awkward to my ear at best (I am a native English speaker):

that's a problem cause i don't get along with other boys well i have always not had many friends (link)

The commenter's profile seems to suggest they at least live in the U.S. Google searches for "I have always not had many" "I have always not had much" "I have always not had a lot" don't yield many hits, barely any actually. I did find one, and only one, hit in a book on Google Books:

For pretty much 40 years, I have always not had a record, so it never stopped me. (link)

In both cases, the context makes it pretty clear the writer means they do not have many friends or they do not have a record, and it has always been like that.

Questions:

  1. Does the sentence work grammatically? If not why?

  2. Is there a more idiomatic way to phrase "I have always not had" without removing the "always"?

I know "I have always had a few friends" and "I have never had many friends" work. What I am interested in is how to rephrase it and make it idiomatic while keeping "always" "not... many friends". Essentially, I wonder if it can sound less awkward by simply rearranging the word order.

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    Asking for something to be checked or improve phrasing is off-topic here. If you did some really basic research you'd find that english speakers say 'never', rather than 'always not'.
    – Astralbee
    Apr 11, 2023 at 7:33
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    The whole passage is written by someone with poor language skills. Don't treat it as an example of how to write in English. Apr 11, 2023 at 7:47
  • Yeah, well, people do speak like this. No reason to criticize the individual. People speak like they speak.
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2023 at 12:39
  • I've done a few quick edits to try to clarify your question. Feel free to roll them back or tweak them.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 21, 2023 at 13:39

1 Answer 1

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As noted in comments this is not an example of well-written English.

To write well takes care. And comments on a web forum are normally not written with any care. They are not usually checked or proofread before posting.

That's the case here. The writer was only giving voice to their feelings. They didn't attempt to write well. They didn't (for example) use capital letters, or punctuation, or check their spelling. That's not a crime, but learners should be aware of these kind of elementary mistakes. If a native speaker is making lots of basic mistakes in spelling or punctuation, they are probably also making mistakes in grammar too.

Here it is most likely that the author thought to write "I always was lonely" (or something like that the full sentence wasn't planned in advance) but having written "always" they realised that the next phrase was negative "didn't have friends" (which would go with a negative adverb "I never had any friends"). But the word "always" was already written, and they didn't bother to go back and fix the mistake.

Similarly the example from the book is transcribed speech. Again the speaker has started with using "always", but then got into the problem that it needs a positive verb phrase. But you can't go back and edit speech. Her mistake would not be remembered except that someone wrote down her words verbatim.

So it doesn't work well because the way to express this is to use a negative adverb "I never had a record for 40 years" (this refers to a criminal record) "I never had many friends". It's just not possible to rephrase with "always" and a negative verb phrase, and form a well-written and idiomatic English sentence. The rules for the correct placement of adverbs of frequency may seem arbitary and often not logical. Here is a simple summary

There is a correct form with the words in a different order. It is correct to say "I have not always been a vegetarian" (for example) to mean "Sometimes I have been a meat-eater."

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