Can "don't seem to" be restated as "seem not to"?
For example, can "He doesn't seem to think so." be restated as "He seems not to think so."?

1 Answer 1


The use of an auxiliary verb to support seem is optional and is more like a matter of style.

So you can say either:

He doesn't seem to think so.


He seems not to think so

  • 2
    Note that there is a pedantic difference: "doesn't seem to think so" literally means you don't observe anything indicating he thinks so. But maybe he's giving no clues at all about what he thinks or doesn't think. "Seems not to think so" literally means you observe something to indicate he doesn't think so. But in practice this pedantic/literal difference isn't often used, and people will say "doesn't seem to think so" when they'd be justified in saying "seems not to think so" or even "seems to think not". Jan 14, 2015 at 13:10
  • 1
    ... I think there's a term for this happening, when negatives sneak their way out past auxiliary verbs. Or maybe the special term is only when it happens with modal verbs (as, for example, "I don't think so" typically means "I think not", it would be rare for someone to say it and mean "I have no thoughts at all on the subject either way"). But I don't remember the term. Jan 14, 2015 at 13:16
  • @SteveJessop Perhaps the term "Increased specificity of negation (I don't want to hear about it)", as in CGEL pages 838-43. :)
    – F.E.
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:16

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