452. A very careful writer will so place the modifiers of a verb that the reader will not mistake the meaning.
The rigid rule in such a case would be, to put the modifier in such a position that the reader not only can understand the meaning intended, but cannot misunderstand the thought. Now, when such adverbs as only, even, etc., are used, they are usually placed in a strictly correct position, if they modify single words; but they are often removed from the exact position, if they modify phrases or clauses: for example, from Irving, "The site is only to be traced by fragments of bricks, china, and earthenware." Hereonly modifies the phrase by fragments of bricks, etc., but it is placed before the infinitive. This misplacement of the adverb can be detected only by analysis of the sentence.
Tell what the adverb modifies in each quotation, and see if it is placed in the proper position:-
1. Only the name of one obscure epigrammatist has been embalmed for us in the verses of his rival. -Palgrave.2. Do you remember pea shooters? I think we only had them on going home for holidays. -Thackeray.3. Irving could only live very modestly. He could only afford to keep one old horse.- Id.4. The arrangement of this machinery could only be accounted for by supposing the motive power to have been steam.- Wendell Phillips.5. Such disputes can only be settled by arms.- Id.6. I have only noted one or two topics which I thought most likely to interest an American reader.- N. P. Willis .7. The silence of the first night at the farmhouse,-stillness broken only by two whippoorwills. -Higginson.8. My master, to avoid a crowd, would suffer only thirty people at a time to see me. -Swift.9. In relating these and the following laws, I would only be understood to mean the original institutions.- Id.10. The perfect loveliness of a woman's countenance can only consist in that majestic peace which is founded in the memory of happy and useful years. -Ruskin.11. In one of those celestial days it seems a poverty that we can only spend it once. -Emerson.12. My lord was only anxious as long as his wife's anxious face or behavior seemed to upbraid him. -Thackeray.13. He shouted in those clear, piercing tones that could be even heard among the roaring of the cannon. -Cooper.14. His suspicions were not even excited by the ominous face of Gérard. -Motley.15. During the whole course of his administration, he scarcely befriended a single man of genius. -Macaulay.16. I never remember to have felt an event more deeply than his death. -Sydney Smith.17. His last journey to Cannes, whence he was never destined to return. -Mrs. Grote.
USE OF DOUBLE NEGATIVES.
453. In Old and Middle English, two negatives strengthened a negative idea; for example,-
He nevere yet no vileineye ne sayde,
In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
-Chaucer.No sonne, were he never so old of yeares, might not marry. -Ascham.The first of these is equivalent to "He didn't never say no villainy in all his life to no manner of man,"-four negatives.This idiom was common in the older stages of the language, and is still kept in vulgar English; as,-I tell you she ain' been nowhar ef she don' know we all. - Page, in Ole Virginia.There weren't no pies to equal hers. -Mrs. Stowe.
There are sometimes found two negatives in modern English with a negative effect, when one of the negatives is a connective. This, however, is not common.
I never did see him again, nor never shall. -De Quincey.However, I did not act so hastily, neither. -Defoe.The prosperity of no empire, nor the grandeur of no king, can so agreeably affect, etc. -Burke.
But, under the influence of Latin syntax, the usual way of regarding the question now is, that two negatives are equivalent to an affirmative, denying each other.
Therefore, if two negatives are found together, it is a sign of ignorance or carelessness, or else a purpose to make an affirmative effect. In the latter case, one of the negatives is often a prefix; as infrequent, uncommon.
Tell whether the two or more negatives are properly used in each of the following sentences, and why:-
1. The red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements. -Hawthorne.2. "Huldy was so up to everything about the house, that the doctor didn't miss nothin' in a temporal way." -Mrs. Stowe.3. Her younger sister was a wide-awake girl, who hadn't been to school for nothing. -Holmes.4. You will find no battle which does not exhibit the most cautious circumspection. -Bayne.5. Not only could man not acquire such information, but ought not to labor after it. -Grote.6. There is no thoughtful man in America who would not consider a war with England the greatest of calamities. -Lowell.7. In the execution of this task, there is no man who would not find it an arduous effort. -Hamilton.8. "A weapon," said the King, "well worthy to confer honor, nor has it been laid on an undeserving shoulder." -Scott.