How to interpret this

If there’s one thing in english guaranteed to make me stumble, it’s trying to untangle sentences that involve more than one negative. I read this in a cartoon yesterday and as pretty sure it’s wrong, but require validation by wiser heads:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the SAS weren’t already here.”

The cartoon is of a Falkland islands penguin talking to a larger penguin behind him, who is an SAS soldier in disguise. I think the caption should read “I wouldn’t be surprised if the SAS were already here”, but am I wrong?


It probably depends on how “modern” you want to sound. I would have little hesitation in using the first construction, though friends of mine have occasionally pulled me up and suggested that it would be simpler to use the second construction. Just now, I don’t really have time to go through my various grammar books and look at all the rules governing the subjunctive mood and forms of negation, but I’d say which construction you use is largely a matter of taste. Have a look at Ernest Gowers’s Complete Plain Words, Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage – both rather old, but interesting if you want to look at “old fashioned” constructions. There is also a new version of Fowler, edited by R.W. Burchfield. Perusing these will demonstrate that English usage is a minefield, and one that is so vast and complex that probably not even a professional linguist can know all the booby-traps. I’ll leave more learned discussions to the linguists!

Cheers, Martin.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t right :smiling_imp:
I’ts dialogue…using pretty common idiomatic phrasing, ignore it. You know what the bird is saying…run with it. :wink: It’s just as well you don’t have to share a Writersroom with Vic-k. You’d be in a straight jacket by now :frowning:

Well technically since it is in quotes denoting spoken word anything can be said.

“Whoa der friggin bat man, I done did gooder on getting dis dumb ting fixed and all that stuff and I’ms fixin’ to give that there g-man a wallop on his all starin’ eye.”

But to answer your question in another way. My opinion is its “too wordy”, making em feel the person speaking is old fashioned or snooty in a way and trying to appear “smart” by getting wordy…


Instead of saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the SAS weren’t already here.”

They could have said: “This is another shit storm that was started by someone that sits in an office thousands of miles away and is worried about voting potential.”


A simple matter, really. Simply negate the statement by removing one of the negatives, which produces

Then repositivate the statement by removing another negative, which produces

which is, apparently, exactly the opposite of what was intended.

It is, therefore, an apt description of MI, which specializes in obfuscation, deceit, and general confusion. And that’s the internal stuff; effect on the broader outside world is incalculable.


I’m outta here fast…sorry I came now…jeeezz!!!