not three

-Three people witnessed the murder.

a. -No, not three people witnessed the murder. Four people did.
b. -No, it wasn't three people who witnessed the murder, it was four people.
c. -No, three people didn't witness the murder. Four people did.

In this context, which of the sentences a-c work?

(c) would normally mean that there were three people (out of a group) who didn't witness the murder. But in this context, the speaker is repeating something that has already been said. I am not sure (c) works though.

Many thanks.

Original Post

Hi, Azz,

I don't think (a) and (c) work ((c) would only work if we just had: Three people didn't witness the murder, which is to be understood as you explained it).

In my opinion, only (b) works to express what you mean to say.

Then, we have (d), which means something else:

d. It's not that three people witnessed the murder. They actually took part in it.


You start out with a statement:

Three people witnessed the murder.

Then, immediately, you give three responses, all of which, by the presence of the introductory "No, ... ", seem to be treating the initial statement as though it were a question:

Did three people witness the murder?

I am mostly, if not entirely, in agreement with Gustavo in his reading of your examples.

As he says, (b) seems to be the best choice, but I would rephrase it for clarity:

b1: Actually, there were more than three witnesses.  There were at least four.

As you and Gustavo both appear to indicate, (c) wants to refer to a specific group of seven people that have been rounded up by the police immediately after the event:

c1: Three [of these] people didn't witness the murder.  Four [of them] did.

As Gustavo says, (a) doesn't work.  The first sentence begs the interpretation that there weren't as many as three witnesses, which is contradicted by the second sentence.

Gustavo's (d) adds an interesting twist to the story.  I fear that I may have corrupted his innocent soul.

Forgive me, Gus!



I think you mean to say either:

e: All criminals are uncooperative witnesses, aren't they?


f: Every criminal is an uncooperative witness, isn't she?

Did I leave anybody out?  I'm not always quite as imaginative as Gustavo is.


azz posted:

-Three people witnessed the murder.

a. -No, not three people witnessed the murder. Four people did.

Hi, Azz,

I'd just like to add one small thing to what Gustavo and DocV have said above, and that is that (a) would work if you chopped off the predicate of the first sentence. This would work only in conversation, of course, but you have represented this as a conversation (using "-" before each speaker's turn):

A: Three people witnessed the murder.
B: No, not three people. Four people did.

I think that that would actually be the most natural way for B to correct A's utterance in a live conversation. Incidentally, there is an important reason for dropping the predicate in the quasi-sentence "No, not three people." It's that "Not three people witnessed the murder" would mean that fewer than three did!

I agree with David's comments.  In particular, David's point

"Not three people witnessed the murder" would mean that less than three did!

was the unstated reason behind my rejection of (a), and I suspect it was Gustavo's reason as well.

Azz's (c) and my (c1) must both be understood to mean that three people have been positively confirmed as not having witnessed the murder.  It would perhaps be better stated as:

c2: We definitely know of three people that cannot possibly have witnessed the murder.  We also know of four people that were definitely there at the scene, and cannot help but to have seen the whole thing unfold.


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