Definite assertions

From The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr., Via Bartleby.com

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

He was not very often on time. He usually came late.
He did not think that studying Latin was much use. He thought the study of Latin useless.
The Taming of the Shrew is rather weak in spots. Shakespeare does not portray Katharine as a very admirable character, nor does Bianca remain long in memory as an important character in Shakespeare’s works. The women in The Taming of the Shrew are unattractive. Katharine is disagreeable, Bianca insignificant.

 

The last example, before correction, is indefinite as well as negative. The corrected version, consequently, is simply a guess at the writer’s intention.

All three examples show the weakness inherent in the word not. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; he wishes to be told what is. Hence, as a rule, it is better to express a negative in positive form.

not honest dishonest
not important trifling
did not remember forgot
did not pay any attention to ignored
did not have much confidence in distrusted

 

 

 

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