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Is there any difference between: might have not received and mightn’t have received ? During a contest I got "0" points for using the first one instead of the second one.

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    You possibly got marked down for putting "have" and "not" the wrong way round, as a native speaker would usually say "might not have received". That said, mightn't isn't actually a particularly common contraction so I wouldn't even have considered using it (even though it's correct). I would have said "Might not have received" myself. Mar 11, 2016 at 9:35
  • But it's not actually "wrong" – might have not received is also grammatical.
    – user230
    Mar 11, 2016 at 9:59

2 Answers 2

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Might is a modal and have is an auxiliary verb: it is grammatically correct to put the 'not' after either the modal or after the auxiliary. Putting it after the modal is the most widely used option:

They received the letter, but they might not have understood it

You might put it after the auxiliary if you particularly want to emphasize the might, for example

They received the letter, but they might have not understood it

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The canonical position of the negative particle "not" in verb phrases is immediately after the (first) auxiliary verb ( ie, BE, DO, HAVE and the modal auxiliaries CAN, COULD, WILL, WOULD, SHALL, SHOULD, MAY, MIGHT, MUST )as a separate word or as the contacted form "-n't"; so, We aren't ready, I do not agree, She hasn't spoken, Kiwis can't fly, You will not have qualified/won't have qualified, The eggs hadn't been cooked, This parcel should not have been opened Essentially, "not" negates everything that is to the right of it.

Cases where "not" can immediately precede the lexical verb are very much the exception, and then convey a particular focus on the lexical:

She might have not jumped but slipped off the parapet ( In this sentence, there is a focal use of "not" to contrast the lexical verbs jump and slip, to indicate for example that an accident was a possible alternative situation to a suicide.)

Another non-default negation can be seen in the following contrasting sentences:

We might have not taken the old road, but you insisted on taking it and now we've lost our way.

We might not have taken the old road. It's possible that we didn't take it, but that trip was so long ago that I can't recall with any certainty.

In the first sentence, the modality is DEONTIC, the speaker expressing a judgemental comment on behaviour, in this instance criticizing. The meaning is to be understood on the interpersonal level, and perceived as subjective.

In the second sentence, the modality is EPISTEMIC, the speaker assessing the possibility/probability of a situation. The meaning is to be understood on the level of experience perceived as objective.

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