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This title is from the cover of a video on ITV channel. "Why shouldn't they have a choice"? ITV

When I read the title at first, I thought the video is about "They shouldn't be given a choice.", because "shouldn't" seemed like the "shouldn't" in "Why shouldn't you smoke." (advice)

But when I have watched it, I understood that the video suppors the idea that "They should be given a choice.", rather than "not being given a choice"?

So, I read the title again and the title of the video seemed ambiguous to me. Is the sentence in favour of the choice, or is it against the choice being given? And it sounded like it can mean both.

So, if you are in favour of something and want to suggest or advice about it, would you say: "Why should they brush their teeth? or would you say "Why shouldn't they brush their teeth"?. Of course you would say "....should...".

But, then, since clearly the video is in favour of choice being given, why does the title of the video say "Why shouldn't they have a choice" instead of "Why should they have a choice"?,

Euthanasia-debate

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  • "Why shouldn't you smoke" is different from "Why you shouldn't smoke" (in fact they mean almost the opposite)
    – James K
    Jan 12 at 7:44
  • I got even more confused now. Since you say they mean the opposite, I want to confirm: Does "Why shouldn't you smoke?"? mean "You can smoke, it is ok that you smoke, you should be allowed to smoke". Is that what it means?
    – Yunus
    Jan 12 at 8:28
  • Do you mean "Why shouldn't you smoke" is a criticism about a situation which you see illogical. For example, if your friend tells about a case he had yesterday, where he was in a smoking area and somebody came up to him and said "You mustn't smoke here." Then you are suprised and tell friend "Why shouldn't you smoke"? in a critical way to emphasize how nonsense that person spoke. So, rather than a question, it is a disagreement with a situation or a criticism of that situation, isn't it?
    – Yunus
    Jan 12 at 8:42
  • "Why shouldn't you [do something]?" means that you think they should do it, or be allowed to do it. Jan 12 at 9:18
  • @KateBunting, I undestand, but imagine, you say to your child, "You shouldn't walk on the grass." Then since they are curious about evertyhing, they want to find out the reason. So, they would simply say "Why shouldn't I do it."? Does this question mean they think it is ok to walk on the grass, or does the question mean they simpy want to find out the reason?
    – Yunus
    Jan 12 at 17:20

3 Answers 3

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"Why he shouldn't smoke" is a content clause with an interrogation. It's not a full sentence and not a question. It could be used as part of a sentence, or as the title of an essay giving a list of reasons.

"Why shouldn't he smoke?" is a question. Literally, it asks for the list of reasons, but it could probably be understood as a rhetorical question. The person saying this doesn't expect it to be answered because they imply that it has no answer.

So these are almost opposite in meaning. "Why he shouldn't smoke" would be used as a title by someone with lots of reasons. "Why shouldn't he smoke?" would be used by someone who thinks there are no reasons.

Likewise, "Why they shouldn't have a choice" is a content clause (not a sentence) that could be used as a title to a video giving reasons for them not to have a choice. But "Why shouldn't they have a choice?" is a rhetorical question that could be used as a title for a video clip that suggests that there are no reasons for them not to have a choice, and saying that, therefore, they should have a choice.

Now the implication is different if the question is asked as a genuine question. If someone says "Why shouldn't I smoke?" as a genuine question, it may be because they think that there are reasons for not smoking, and want to know what the reasons are. Or it can be rhetorical, as above. You can't tell if the question is rhetorical or not from the syntax, nor even from the intonation, but only from the wider context.

Asking "Why should they have a choice?" rhetorically would imply the opposite. It would suggest that there were no good reasons for them to have a choice, and so they shouldn't have a choice.

When do you think children should be able to choose which subject to study at school?

Why should they have a choice at all? All the subjects are important and if children can choose to drop some, they will miss out on some important learning.

Do you really think so? Let me tell you why they should have a choice. If children don't get to choose which subject to specialise in, they won't be able to learn in depth. And they may be demotivated by studying a subject that doesn't interest them.

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  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer. I understand that "Why shouldn't they have a choice" is actually supporting the idea that they should have a choice. And now if we ask the same question in an affirmative way: "Why SHOULD they have a choice?", then this is INTERESTINGLY also supporting the idea that they should have a choice. So, both forms, ("Why SHOULDN'T they have a choice" and "Why SHOULD they have a choice") end up in the same meaning. Do you think so?
    – Yunus
    Jan 12 at 21:48
  • Asking the rhetorical question "Why should they have a choice?" implies that you think that there are no reasons for them to have a choice, and so they shouldn't have a choice. That, it is the opposite to "why shouldn't they have a choice?", as expected.
    – James K
    Jan 12 at 21:56
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The clue is in the fact that it is a question not a statement, and a rhetorical question as has been pointed out. It clearly (to a native speaker) means that you should be allowed a choice. It is a challenge to the listener to provide reasons why they shouldn't have a choice, with the expectation that those reasons will be refuted.

If you said "Why should they have a choice?" it would imply that you think they shouldn't as you are challenging the listener to provide reasons that they should.

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  • I wouldn't automatically read a title or headline asking 'Why should we look after the planet?' or 'why should we respect the law?' as suggesting that we shouldn't. Jan 12 at 12:48
  • @Micahel harvey - fair point, although I did say "imply". In this case "Why should we ..." is posing a question which the writer may be intending to answer. There are people who say we shouldn't and I'm going to tell you why they are wrong. Jan 12 at 14:23
  • Not rhetorical necessarily at all.
    – Lambie
    Jan 12 at 20:53
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"They shouldn't have a choice". Negative

adding Why calls for a subject and verb inversion:

"Why shouldn't they have a choice"? negative interrogative.

Negative interrogative here can be just that. The answer would be: Because [of whatever]. They shouldn't have a choice (in this matter) because etc.
OR
It can be used sarcastically or rhetorically.

Does that answer it?

It is asking why they shouldn't have a choice. Another way of saying this.

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