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Hello Teachers

When I was in school, my teacher taught us the English language rather in a mechanical manner. For example, I remember, when we learned a sentence like "He has lived here for five years", we were forced to make its negative sentence, without being given a context it is used. I made a sentence like "He has not lived here for five years", but I could not get then (and still now not clearly) was what word was negated by 'not'. So I asked it to my teacher but no good reply came back. In negation sentences of the Japanese language, we have some marker to indicate what word is negated in the sentence. But I feel some English negations are ambiguous in this respect.

What I'd like now to ask you to confirm is, first of all, whether a sentence like "He has not lived here for five years" sounds natural to you. And then, if it does, which phrase do you think is negated by the 'not'? I mean, when you have no context, which one do you naturally tend to take as its meaning, "It is not here but there where he has lived for five years" or "It is not so long or short a time as five years that he has lived here for"? And furthermore, do you think I can say "He has not lived here for five years yet" to avoid this kind of ambiguity?

paco
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Hi Paco,

Let me help you to clear your doubts.

First, I'm sure that the sentence given by you sounds natural to them.
In my opinion it is not ambiguous at all, 'not' negates the whole sentence, i.e. in this case 'not' negates the sentence ' He has lived here for 5 years'.

"He has not lived here" means "He has lived somewhere else" (but he might have lived here 5 years ago).

I think you can say: he has not lived here yet and it would mean that he has never lived here.
Hello Yogi

Thank you for the quick reply. I understand what you mean, but I am sorry I have to say it is not what I want to know. Grammatically we can take the sentence ("He has not lived here for 5 years") as a sentence negating "He has lived here (PLACE) for 5 years (DURATION)" as a whole. But semantically, when a speaker utters the whole sentence negation, he/she must have an intention to negate either PLACE or DURATION. What I would like to know is which one native speakers more naturally intend to negate, PLACE or DURATION, by the whole sentence negation.

paco
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Hi Paco! It must be nice to speak a language where ambiguities like this are eliminated by grammatical markers! Such a sentence can be ambiguous in English - I'll use your example to try to explain how we handle it.

"He has not lived here for five years." Normally I would take this sentence to mean that he used to live here, but left five years ago. It is a perfectly natural sentence, and I would use it myself, if, for example, I got a piece of mail addressed to someone who had resided at my address more than five years ago.

I admit, it is questionable whether or not "He used to live here but left five years ago" is in any logical sense a negation of "he has lived here for five years." (In fact, as you point out, you really can't logically negate the sentence as a whole. What is the opposite of having lived somewhere for five years?) In English, however, in order to indicate which part you are negating, you need to use some additional words. Here are some possible negations of "He has lived here for five years.":

1) It's not John who has lived here for five years, but his wife.

2) He has not lived here for five years, but only four. Or you could make it a bit clearer by saying, "he has lived here not for five years, but only four." (If this is what you mean, yes, you could certainly say, "he has not lived here for five years yet" -- but it would be better to say, "he has not yet lived here for five years." )

3) He has not exactly lived here for five years. He did move in five years ago, but he spent four of those years in prison!

4) He hasn't lived HERE for five years - he has lived across the street for five years.

Does this help?
THANK YOU, Khoff! Your answer is real GREAT!
"He has not lived here for five years." Normally I would take this sentence to mean that he used to live here, but left five years ago. It is a perfectly natural sentence, and I would use it myself, if, for example, I got a piece of mail addressed to someone who had resided at my address more than five years ago.

For decades I had misunderstood the sentence "He has not lived here for 5 years". I had taken it as if it meant either "He has lived here not so long" or "He has lived somewhere but not here". I had never imagined that it means "He has been absent here for 5 years". So it seems we should take this 'not' as a word negating the verb 'live' (like "He has not-lived here for 5 years). Probably my misunderstanding came from that, in this situation, in our language we usually use another word like 'be absent' instead of 'not live'. Now I think I have to admit English is a language too foreign for me to understand completely. As a tip to my further understanding, could you make me sure that "I haven't learned English for ten years" means "I have suspended English learning for ten years"?

paco
To my knowledge, when a speaker negates a sentence which includes a KNOWN "duration"(e.g. 5 years), he is negating the "duration". However, when the "duration" is unclear/unknown, he is negating the "place". e.g. "He has not lived here for ages!" = "He may have lived here before, but he has not lived here for "God(hell) knows how long"!
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Hi Paco - glad I could clear up a misunderstanding. Yes, the most common meaning of "he has not lived here for 5 years" would be "he has been gone for 5 years." I think your explanation of why you didn't understand it this way is really interesting. And I think, as usual, you're being too hard on yourself. Very few , if any, native speakers understand English "completely"! Your understanding of English is amazing -- don't blame yourself for not having the same intuitive understanding that a native speaker has, but be proud that your knowledge of English grammar is much more complete than that of the average native speaker. (For instance, I had never heard the term "Saxon genitive" until reading it in this forum a couple of days ago.)

Now, as for "I haven't learned English for ten years" -- it would be better to say, "I haven't studied English for ten years" (meaning, I stopped - or suspended - the study of English ten years ago) At the moment I can't really explain why, except that studying is the active process (taking classes, reading grammar books, etc.) and learning is the result. One might say, "I've been studying French for years, but I haven't learned very much."

Nice talking to you, as always.
By "negating the 'duration'" are you saying the sentence means "He has not lived here at any point during the last five years?" Because I, perhaps like the original poster (although I am not positive as to the exact particularities of his question), interpreted the initial sentence "He has not lived here for five years" to mean "He has lived here for an unspecified amount of time (which could include zero) that is less than five years."

Defining it depending on whether or not the duration is known, though, seems like an interpretation that could be easily applied. So just to make sure, when the sentence has a known duration the FULL amount of the duration is negated?
Thank you again, Khoff.

I think now I get the sense of the negation of "have done for a duration". I understand it means the state of NEGATIVE-do has continued for the said duration.

The difference between 'study' and 'learn' you explained is also new to me. I have long believed 'study' were an activity more intent than 'learn'. So I might say "I have studied English a lot but I have learned it only a little". And I should admit it is indeed a fact...Sigh.

Me too, nice talking to you.

paco
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