we can't not go

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 18 14:59:25 UTC 2005

At 9:20 AM -0500 1/18/05, Dale Coye wrote:
>This is what my wife said to me this morning: "But we can't not go"  meaning
>(more or less) 'we have to go'     I had just been thinking of Larry's list of
>examples including:
>You can not go to the party.               (it's up to you)
>You {cannot/can't} go to the party.   (sorry about that)
>I don't think anyone could say *But we cannot not go."
>Dale Coye
>Wilton, NH

Au contraire.  It's just a bit more formal.  Google score:

can't not:    146,000
cannot not:   98,600

The raw numbers don't mean much, but the proportion seems right to me.

(In many languages, necessity/obligation is normally or typically
expressed by just such a combo, which works nicely given that (as
Aristotle observed) NOT [CAN [NOT]] = MUST.)


More information about the Ads-l mailing list