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A grammatical analysis of Donald Trump’s double negatives

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FEW grammatical issues in history can have been quite as consequential. In Helsinki, Donald Trump rhetorically sized up the statements of his own director of national intelligence against those of Vladimir Putin, the former KGB spy standing a few feet away. Did Russia interfere with the election of 2016? “My people came to me. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then yesterday, Mr Trump issued what is, for him, a unicorn-feather of a statement, the rarest of things: a retraction. “The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”

But was it a mistake? Could the president have plausibly said the exact opposite of what he meant at such a critical moment? Most commentary has focused on the wider context: the other things Mr Trump said during the press conference, and whether his correction is consonant with them. But a little close reading…Continue reading

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