Sentences in English can be assertive or non-assertive. Non-assertive sentences include questions and negative statements. The affinity between questions and negation, as opposed to assertion, can be seen syntactically in the fact that the former require do and any instead of some in sentences like
There are a number of words--primarily some and its compounds--which have special non-assertive forms (i.e. primarily any and it's compounds) that are used in nonassertive (interrogative and negative) sentences. Often, though not always, there is also a negative form that can be used as an alternative to a negative verb and a non-assertive form. Here is a slightly expanded list of examples given by Quirk et al. (1972:§7.44), showing the base sentence as a) assertion, b) negation with non-assertive form, c) negation with negative form, and d) question:
lld and 14d are irregular in that the assertive rather than the non-assertive forms are used in the question.
Transferred negation refers to the fact that after some verbs expressing belief or assumption (e.g. think, believe, assume, suppose, imagine) negation which logically belongs in a subordinate clause is transferred to the main verb. This rule applies to a number of sentences (ca. 1%) that occur in the corpus of errors, Although these sentences are grammatically acceptable they begin to sound odd as one encounters them more often (compare the use of that for this in 1.2-5) and deserve some mention here. Consider the following sentences:
In all of these sentences the native speaker would more likely--though not necessarily--put the negation in the main verb (e.g. I don't think you can destroy Rachel's friendship, etc.). From a logical point of view, a sentence like I don't think he's right should be paraphraseable as follows:
This would be distinguished from I think he's not right, which is paraphraseable as:
This distinction between main clause negation (don't think) and subordinate clause negation (he's not right) is normal in the case of most verbs, e.g.:
is not the same as
The difference in meaning between these two sentences with say is quite clear. With verbs expressing belief or opinion, however, the difference is rather subtle,, and the expression of not having a belief or opinion is much less common than the expression of having one-whether it be positive or negative. This is why I don't. think he's right is normally interpreted as the expression of not having a positive opinion, instead of having a negative opinion. To put this more simply, negation of a that clause following the verbs think, believe, imagine, suppose, fancy, expect, and reckon is normally transferred to the verb in the main clause:
is usually expressed as
In 6.1 errors involving the use of non-assertive forms in negative sentences are discussed. 6.2 deals with the use of assertive and non-assertive forms in questions, and 6.3 with the use of no as a determiner.