Positive and Negative Sentence Construction: Is Your Statement Half Full or Not Empty?

By  Jacob Trujillo

closer look

At first, the choice between making a positive statement or a negative statement seems insignificant. We naturally go back and forth between the two on a daily basis in conversation, and it becomes such second nature that we hardly acknowledge the difference. However, when writing an academic paper, it’s important to note the distinction between constructing a positive sentence and a negative one. It ultimately comes down to a question of clarity and concision.

Positive sentences simply state a fact—what something or someone may be, can do, or contains. They are straightforward and to the point. For example:

  1. There are few frogs in the pond.
  2. She continued to eat the salad.

Negative sentences are structured differently and only express what is not. For example:

  1. There are not many frogs in the pond.
  2. She would not stop eating the salad.

Positive sentences are typically clearer and more concise than negative sentences (Long Beach City College WRSC, 2009); they are more direct and use fewer words (Williams & Bizup, 2015). Negative sentences can carry the same meaning but run the risk of meandering away from the main argument and convoluting its message. It is safer to get directly to the point and say what you mean. It can be especially confusing for your audience if you use both positive and negative formations in the same sentence, such as, “Only if you have neglected to perform the assigned task will you not be able to participate in the discussion.”

Using a negative sentence can be more appropriate if you are purposefully trying to emphasize the negative (Williams & Bizup, 2015). For example:

  1. There is no evidence supporting this claim.

In this sentence, you are placing the emphasis on the fact that no evidence exists for this claim. Although, you could still re-write it as a positive sentence.

2. This claim is unsupported.

Every sentence has the ability to be either positive or negative. Generally, a positive sentence structure is the better choice. Keep your audience and the purpose of your paper in mind as you write: how can you make your argument clearer and more concise?

References

Long Beach City College WRSC. (2009). “Writing Clear Sentences: Avoiding Negative Sentences.” Writing in the Technical Fields. Long Beach, CA: Inter Board Committee of Chairmen.

Williams, J.M., & Bizup, J. (2015). Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

This entry was posted in Specialized Writing Advice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply