"I don't think" at the end of sentences

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Slothrop
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"I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Slothrop » Tue Mar 04, 2014 2:10 pm UTC

I am confused about the use of "I don't think" at the end of sentences where it seems to lead to a double negation.

Take the sentence "You shouldn't run with scissors, I don't think." The bad language aside, doesn't this lead to the conclusion that according to "I" we are still undecided as to whether we ought to be running with scissors or not?

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Klear » Tue Mar 04, 2014 2:12 pm UTC

I think this only exists so we can make Descartes jokes.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Slothrop » Tue Mar 04, 2014 2:20 pm UTC

That very well may be the case.

Is it strictly on oddity of the same sort as "I could care less"? (I.e. the thinking, or lack thereof, not the Descarting.)

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Adam H » Tue Mar 04, 2014 2:40 pm UTC

I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone do this, I don't think. At least no one would plan on saying it, I don't think. It's definitely not the best way to communicate that you don't think, I don't think.

Slothrop wrote:Take the sentence "You shouldn't run with scissors, I don't think." The bad language aside, doesn't this lead to the conclusion that according to "I" we are still undecided as to whether we ought to be running with scissors or not?
Actually it seems that this is precisely the intent. If you were sure that I shouldn't run with scissors (e.g. if you were my parent), you wouldn't add "I don't think". But maybe it's an emergency and someone needs scissors ASAP.

Suppose you begin to say "you shouldn't run with scissors", then you realize that you don't actually know whether I should run with scissors. What do you add on the end? "You shouldn't run with scissors, I think" is maybe slightly more awkward. Meh. "You shouldn't run with scissors; I don't think so."?
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Diemo » Tue Mar 04, 2014 3:31 pm UTC

Heh, it's pretty common in Ireland to ask a question along the lines of

"You don't want a cup of tea, do you?"

In terms of don't think I would have assumed that the sentance is the same as
"I don't think you shouldn't run with scissors"
but with the 'I dont think' at the end instead of the beginning (so saying that you should run with scissors :))
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Yablo » Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:34 pm UTC

Diemo wrote:In terms of don't think I would have assumed that the sentance is the same as
"I don't think you shouldn't run with scissors"
but with the 'I dont think' at the end instead of the beginning (so saying that you should run with scissors :))

In standard American English (if such a thing exists), that's exactly how it works. The comma at the end followed by the phrase just means "this could be at the beginning, but I chose to place it at the end". In this case it results in a double negative, but anyone using that sentence either doesn't understand/care, or they do understand and should be slapped.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Slothrop » Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:39 pm UTC

Yablo wrote:... results in a double negative, but anyone using that sentence either doesn't understand/care, or they do understand and should be slapped.


Thanks, that's all I needed to know.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:45 pm UTC

It is also all complete hogwash. (A good rule of thumb is that, whenever someone claims that a particular widely-used construction "logically" implies the exact opposite of what speakers do in fact mean when they say it, that someone is full of shit.)

If it followed the logic Diemo and Yablo claim, then the following sentences would both be grammatical ways to express the same thing:
He's at home, I don't think.
I don't think he's at home.


But they aren't. "I don't think" only seems to follow negative sentences, as in the OP, and so doesn't mean what it would "logically" mean.

Based on the above-linked corporal evidence, it seems Adam H interpreted it correctly despite not remembering ever seeing it before. It's added to the end of negative sentences as a "by the way this is just what I'm thinking at the moment" tag.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby speising » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:55 pm UTC

i'd call it a repetition, for emphasis, that's what i'd think.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Yablo » Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:17 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:It's added to the end of negative sentences as a "by the way this is just what I'm thinking at the moment" tag.

This is true. You can't hear punctuation in spoken English very well, but the written form should probably use a semicolon rather than a comma. "You shouldn't run with scissors; I don't think."
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Dthen » Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:55 am UTC

A semicolon wouldn't be appropriate there, I don't think. Unless my understanding of the usage of semicolons is incorrect, which may well be possible, that would be akin to saying "You shouldn't run with scissors. I don't think.".
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Klear » Wed Mar 05, 2014 10:08 am UTC

Dthen wrote:A semicolon wouldn't be appropriate there, I don't think. Unless my understanding of the usage of semicolons is incorrect, which may well be possible, that would be akin to saying "You shouldn't run with scissors. I don't think.".


I don't see that as wrong, it just creates an uncomfortable pause in the middle.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Mar 05, 2014 5:53 pm UTC

I believe Dthen is interpreting them as independent clauses with independent meanings. Like, "You shouldn't run with scissors. Also, incidentally, I don't think."

This doesn't really track with how we speak, though. If you give a long explanation of something, pause (for a full-stop length of time), and then add, "I think," you're still referring back to that explanation and saying that you think it's true. You're not, in other words, just adding the incidental note that you engage in the activity of thinking.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Dthen » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:03 pm UTC

Is that not what punctuating that sentence with a semicolon would imply?
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:15 pm UTC

I've never in my life used a semicolon between clauses with independent meanings, if that's what you mean. If I want their meanings to be read independently, putting them in the same sentence is a poor way to indicate that.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby speising » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:23 pm UTC

a semicolon denotes a different, but connected thought; at least that's what i think.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Klear » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:32 pm UTC

I think about semicolon as a cross between a comma and colon, which is what it is, graphically.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Slothrop » Thu Mar 06, 2014 8:38 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:... It's added to the end of negative sentences as a "by the way this is just what I'm thinking at the moment" tag.


Thank you for a good answer. I still feel, though, that this would be better achieved by merely appending a simple "I think". No need for the negation, in my mind.

Klear wrote:I think about semicolon as a cross between a comma and colon, which is what it is, graphically.


Well, graphically you could argue that it's more akin to a comma trying to reach the higher ground of the full stop ... or something less pretentious. In neither British nor American English is it a substitute for a colon, despite both its name and appearance. In my view, semicolons are for the most part redundant, just an erudite show-off. I try to limit the use of them to lists where the elements themselves contain commas.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Klear » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:11 pm UTC

Slothrop wrote:
Klear wrote:I think about semicolon as a cross between a comma and colon, which is what it is, graphically.


Well, graphically you could argue that it's more akin to a comma trying to reach the higher ground of the full stop ... or something less pretentious. In neither British nor American English is it a substitute for a colon, despite both its name and appearance. In my view, semicolons are for the most part redundant, just an erudite show-off. I try to limit the use of them to lists where the elements themselves contain commas.


The way I see it (and it might indeed differ from its usage in English) is that colon says "I'm going to explain further now!" while semicolon says "I'm going to explain further now, though it's going to be partially a rant about something else too!"

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby mathmannix » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:35 pm UTC

A semicolon is also useful for showing how people actually speak. People speak in run-on sentences, with fragments tagged on arbitrarily. Semicolons get that.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:54 pm UTC

Semicolons are not between commas and colons, they're between commas and periods/full stops. Unlike commas, they can go between independent clauses, but allow for a stronger rhetorical connection than a period would. And unlike periods, they can separate items in lists, but have a higher precedence than commas and so can be used in lists where each item may have its own commas.

You'd know this already if you read the Oatmeal: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Mar 14, 2014 5:32 pm UTC

I would assume if anyone said "You shouldn't run with scissors, I don't think" What they wanted to say was "I don't think you should run with scissors", but they startied saying the core statement before they realize they wanted to qualify as a thought rather than a fact. If we look at a series of progressively more complicated statements trying to express the core sentiment it would probably look like:

  1. No!
  2. Don't run!
  3. Don't run with scissors!
  4. You shouldn't run with scissors.
  5. I don't think you should run with scissors.
The typical English speaker will hold off expressing a thought until they've pinned down the subject, which brings us to the fourth statement. If, say, the speaker were speaking to an adult where it would be impolite to tell the listener what they should do, the speaker would want to qualify it. (Pro-tip: " , in my opinion" would work well for that.)
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Mar 14, 2014 6:58 pm UTC

That would make sense if it were only ever spoken, but it also gets written down a fair amount. Even if it's usually in an attempt to write conversationally, that's still a different reason from deciding halway through a sentence that you want to change it into a personal opinion.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Mar 14, 2014 8:41 pm UTC

I'm not sure why you assume people don't change their minds about what they're typing mid-keystroke; I did it a couple of times this sentence. Try this: when typing something several paragraphs long, remove your fingers from the keyboard after each period until you're consciously aware of what you're going to write until the next period.

A rigorous editing might move the "I don't think" to the front, but most of the examples (including the ones from sites that would have professional authors) from your link seem to be blog posts, which have a lower standard; heck, a third of them don't even have a comma at the start.

Unrelated: "They didn't understand I don't think" from one of the examples is delightfully ambiguous about whether a comma or colon goes in there. More ambiguous but less delightful once you note the source (Suicide.org: where a discussion of mental problems wouldn't be out of place).
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Adam H » Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:09 pm UTC

I have never seen it written, I don't think.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:12 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:I'm not sure why you assume people don't change their minds about what they're typing mid-keystroke
Of course people change their minds while typing. The difference is that they can then go back and fix anything they see as wrong after doing so. There are loads of things we say that never end up in published text, even if it's only published in a (professional) blog.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:43 pm UTC

Oh, crap I did say blog; I meant forums. Like some of them are from abc.net: they appear to be forum entries/ comments rather than content by professional writers. A few are explicit quotations. Punctuation errors in many examples suggest a lax writing environment.

As for Nixon's quote: Yes, obviously that contains errors that wouldn't even make it into a YouTube comment. The important point is that it's obviously wrong. ", I don't think" isn't obvious; many might not even consider it wrong. Typically people stop editing sentences once they become grammatically sound, without considering the optimal isomorph.

While I would personally avoid using it (and may have implied disdain for it), my point was that it's an afterthought.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby goofy » Sat Mar 15, 2014 5:51 pm UTC


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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Mar 15, 2014 9:41 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:Oh, crap I did say blog; I meant forums. Like some of them are from abc.net: they appear to be forum entries/ comments rather than content by professional writers. A few are explicit quotations. Punctuation errors in many examples suggest a lax writing environment.

As for Nixon's quote: Yes, obviously that contains errors that wouldn't even make it into a YouTube comment. The important point is that it's obviously wrong. ", I don't think" isn't obvious; many might not even consider it wrong. Typically people stop editing sentences once they become grammatically sound, without considering the optimal isomorph.

While I would personally avoid using it (and may have implied disdain for it), my point was that it's an afterthought.


Except that patterns like that are very often emulated in composed prose for their rhetorical effect, I should think.

It seems like your explanation would apply whether or not the little coda was negated. I don't think anyone has voiced an objection to the positive version. (People cringing at the presence of a double negative in English actually don't have even that level of logical footing, I don't think.)
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby mathmannix » Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:40 pm UTC

As far as the original topic goes, it looks to me like it might be a regional (WARNING: TV TROPES!) verbal tic, like how people of different origins might tack a seemingly grammatically unnecessary "doncha know", "y'know", or "I tell you what" to the end of a sentence.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Mar 18, 2014 3:09 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:It seems like your explanation would apply whether or not the little coda was negated. I don't think anyone has voiced an objection to the positive version.
I haven't said either the positive or negative versions were wrong, just that they suggested the qualification was an afterthought. And yes, I'd consider both constructions (and Yoda speak in general) of probably indicating afterthoughts.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Mar 20, 2014 6:49 pm UTC

Or feigning one rhetorically, in the same sense that one asks a rhetorical question in a piece of prose. I think it's a proper convention now, not something that comes about de novo every time someone uses it.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Mar 20, 2014 7:48 pm UTC

Exactly. That's sort of what I was getting at by pointing out its presence in edited writing. It shows up in scripted dialogue as well, which I don't think is the case with a lot of the de novo afterthoughts and backpedaling that happen in real conversations.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:18 pm UTC

Fair enough.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby quarkcosh1 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:39 pm UTC

What about people who put "I don't know" at the end of their sentences. How literally should you interpret this? I used to have a teacher who would interpret this so literally he would ignore what you said before this even if it was correct.

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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Apr 04, 2014 6:24 pm UTC

Do you have examples? Specifically are you preceding it by a positive or negative statement? By a certain or uncertain statement?

Also was this an English teacher (concerned with how you say things) or another kind?
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:50 pm UTC

I think that "I don't know" is generally used (in my experience) in cases where the speaker thinks they might be seen to have overstated their case or overtepped some boundary. It's a politeness marker.
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Re: "I don't think" at the end of sentences

Postby Adam H » Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:01 pm UTC

quarkcosh1 wrote:What about people who put "I don't know" at the end of their sentences. How literally should you interpret this? I used to have a teacher who would interpret this so literally he would ignore what you said before this even if it was correct.
Interpreting "I don't know" completely literally is straightforward: it means the person is unsure of their statement's veracity. It's not rational to ignore something just because someone doesn't know for sure that it's true.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you and/or your teacher.
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