Jose Carillo's Forum


Here, for starters, are some English-usage questions that you may have wondered about sometime:

  1. Is “not unless” a redundant phrase?
  2. Is the phrase “most often than not” correct usage?
  3. Which is correct, “on behalf” or “in behalf”?
  4. When do you use “would” and when do you use “will”?
  5. Do you say “Best wishes!” to an ailing person?

To get the ball rolling for this forum, let me share with you my answers to these five questions that were posed to me by readers of "English Plain and Simple," my weekly column that comes out Saturdays in both the print and online editions of The Manila Times.

Question #1: Is “not unless” a redundant phrase?

Mr. Joseph P.S. wrote:

I wanted to ask if the phrase “not unless” is redundant. Isn’t the correct form only the single word “unless,” or are they both correct? My instructor told me about this, but I read a couple of books where “not unless” is used. I find this very confusing. (February 22, 2003)

My reply to Joseph:

The usage of “not unless” is acceptable and not necessarily redundant, as in the following question-and-answer sequence: “Can I use copyrighted material for my book?” “Not unless you have permission from the author or publisher.” In the answer, the phrase “not unless you have permission” is the positive equivalent of the double-negative “not if you don’t have permission.” In other words, “not unless” is functioning here as a negated preposition that means “not if you don’t,” yielding for the question-and-answer sequence this equivalent meaning: “Can I use copyrighted material for my book?” “Yes, but you need to have permission from the author or publisher.” (March 5, 2009)

To read the answers to the rest of the questions, Click here (requires registration to post)

If you have questions about English along these lines, don’t hesitate to post them in the English Language Forum now! Thoughtful, well-considered answers to particular questions posted in the forum will also be most welcome!


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