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I used not to play football.
PostPosted: Sun Aug 05, 2007 5:47 am Reply with quote
Bridget
 
Joined: 17 May 2007
Posts: 77


I used not to play football.

Is there any grammatical justification for that form? I think not.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 12:56 pm Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


Aha, you have pointed to one of the most mysterious (to me) idioms in the English language: "used to."

I think that phrase essentially takes the place of a marker for the imperfect past tense. In other words, "I used to play football" means that I played football over and over again in the past, as opposed to asserting that I played in one game in August 1999, or I played on the team when I was in my first year at university.

Now, your question is whether "I used not to play football" is grammatically correct. To me it sounds wrong. I would say instead: "I used to not play football." But the distinction is pretty subtle.

If the example you originally cited sounds wrong, it may be that that phrase "used to" as a marker for imperfect is heard as a fixed unit.

Alas, I have no authoritative insights into this question. Others, please chime in! This is a very common phrase that is very difficult to analyze.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 2:17 pm Reply with quote
RabiAkiva
 
Joined: 28 Jun 2006
Posts: 163
Location: Israel


I used to play not football...., but soccer.
Laughing

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 2:28 pm Reply with quote
thegooseking
 
Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 64
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland


I do agree that 'used to' is normally seen as a fixed term, but I also wonder if it really is. Is it used to / play or used / to play? In the latter case, "I used to not play" would involve a split infinitive, and I think you'll have difficulty getting any kind of authoritative answer on whether or not that's correct in English. To avoid the split-infinitive, you could say "I used not to play", but then you run the risk of splitting the term 'used to'.

I do think that both "I used not to play football" and "I used to not play football" does sound a bit like 'not playing' is a verb, rather than a negation of a verb: almost like the author could have been putting a tremendous amount of effort into avoiding the sport (which I do myself, so I can't say it doesn't happen...) By contrast, "I used to not like football" sounds perfectly reasonable (although "I used to dislike football" may be more so).

I'd be tempted to replace it with "I didn't used to play", though that sounds awkward, so I'm not entirely sure whether or not it's correct. Maybe I would just avoid the whole question and say "I never played." That way "I used to not play (but I do now)" can be expressed as "I never played until recently."
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 3:15 pm Reply with quote
felika
 
Joined: 23 Jun 2006
Posts: 32
Location: Cologne, Germany


this makes me think...
'i never played football' sounds to me like 'i didn't even play football once', while 'i used to not play football' sounds like, 'i never used to play football on a regular basis'. does that make sense?
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 7:38 pm Reply with quote
Bridget
 
Joined: 17 May 2007
Posts: 77


Quote:
I do agree that 'used to' is normally seen as a fixed term, but I also wonder if it really is. Is it used to / play or used / to play?


Definitely used to/play.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 9:44 pm Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


I agree with Bridget.

Gooseking, I hear this term as a really colloquial idiom. I think what we are trying to do here (whether we realize it or not) is to define the grammatical rule that governs its use.

In the spirit of "that just doesn't sound right," it seems to me that to adhere strictly to the prohibition against splitting infinitives just violates the sound of that phrase.

So "I used not to play football" follows the "rule" against infinitive-splitting, but sounds stilted and somewhat priggish.

Of course, the avowedly non-prescriptivist linguists over at Language Log would say that the rule against splitting infinitives is misguided.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 12:22 pm Reply with quote
Bridget
 
Joined: 17 May 2007
Posts: 77


Quote:
Of course, the avowedly non-prescriptivist linguists over at Language Log would say that the rule against splitting infinitives is misguided.


Is it not?
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 12:28 pm Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


Bridget wrote:
Quote:
Of course, the avowedly non-prescriptivist linguists over at Language Log would say that the rule against splitting infinitives is misguided.


Is it not?

I certainly think it is. I give myself permission to randomly split infinitives all the time.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 9:17 pm Reply with quote
thegooseking
 
Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 64
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland


May I just make it clear that I'm not against split infinitives myself: I did, after all, say "I used to not like football" sounded reasonable Wink

My point in bringing up the question of split infinitives was, as Dave touched on, an attempt to formalize the informal... perhaps misguidedly. At least it was partly that, and partly just playing devil's advocate.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 09, 2007 7:33 am Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


I think you stated it perfectly, Goosey: formalizing the informal almost always sounds kind of silly.

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I used not to play football.
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