Positive About Negative

Jobin, a Peanut Gallery member from Oman, sent me a good question today:
“Please clarify for me: can I use ‘positive’ in sentences where I have a negative meaning?
Maybe my example would help you understand what I mean:
1.      I am positive that he won’t make the meeting.
2.      I am positive that both Tom and Harry is not suitable for this task.”

Yes, Jobin, you can be positive that a negative thing is true. Your first sentence is perfectly correct. Your second one could be better stated in several ways:

2A.     I am positive that both Tom and Harry are unsuitable for this task.
The plural subject “Tom and Harry” must take a plural verb, so change “is” to “are.” Unsuitable sounds even stronger than “not suitable,” which emphasizes how positive you are about this fact.

2B.     I am positive that neither Tom nor Harry is suitable for this task.
This version looks at each person separately and declares each unsuitable.

2C.     I am positive that Tom and Harry are unsuitable for this task.
By leaving out the word “both” you could imply that the two of them as a team or duo are not suitable. Perhaps they don’t get along well together. However, if either one were paired with someone else it might work out OK.

So there are several ways to say this correctly, and the choice is up to you.

Profound Quote of the Day:
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts:
therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Roman soldier, 121-180


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