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Does the word "not" after a to-be verb have to necessarily modify the to-be verb, or can it modify the descriptor that comes after the word "not"?

For example, "If jays are not in the forest, then shrikes are."

Is it grammatically necessary for “not” to modify “are” in the sentence, or could “not” instead modify “in the forest.” If the latter were possible, and “not in the forest” were the descriptor, then saying the shrikes “are” would mean they are “not in the forest”.

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abigailmbDoes the word "not" after a to-be verb have to necessarily modify the to-be verb, or can it modify the descriptor that comes after the word "not"?

There is more than one answer to this, depending on which system of analysis you're using.

Although the following example doesn't have the verb to be, it shows diagrams which differ in the interpretation of 'not' in the same way as you might find for to be.

https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/19006/analyzing-negation-with-a-syntactic-tree

CJ

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abigailmbDoes the word "not" after a to-be verb have to necessarily modify the to-be verb, or can it modify the descriptor that comes after the word "not"?

If jays are not in the forest, then shrikes are.

Syntactically, there is verbal negation here marked by modification of the auxiliary verb "be" (i.e. "are") by the adverb "not".

Semantically, the negation has scope over its positive counterpart, "if jays are in the forest".

Incidentally, the verb is "be", not "to be".

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Comments  

So does that mean the sentence is ambiguous and depends on which syntax theory is used?

Thanks!

The diagrams on that website were helpful. Do you know where I can look up what all the notation stands for (like TP, NP, NegP)? Thank you!

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There are many sites that explain tree structures in linguistics.

Here is a very basic introduction.

https://www.slideshare.net/Andriyanieka12/10-syntax-syntax-phrases-18509446

Thank you! Now I know what the labels mean on the tree structures. So is one of the diagrams on CJ's link better than the other two? Or are they all equally acceptable (making the interpretation of 'not' ambiguous)?

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abigailmb

Thank you! Now I know what the labels mean on the tree structures. So is one of the diagrams on CJ's link better than the other two? Or are they all equally acceptable (making the interpretation of 'not' ambiguous)?

A note of caution: the trees that use such labels as TP and NegP are used in theoretical grammar such as the controversial X-bar theory, and are really intended for linguists. I would strongly suggest that you stick with the 'traditional' kind of tree that labels both functions and categories.

How do you know for sure the “not” negates the “are” instead of negating the “in”? Is there an actual syntax rule that says it must always negate the “are”?
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