Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: wouldn’t be surprised.

wouldn’t be surprised. Generally, a negative shouldn’t appear after this phrase. That is, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Ratliff has retired” means that I think Ratliff has retired; “I wouldn’t be surprised if Ratliff hasn’t retired” means, literally, that I suspect Ratliff is still working. But many people use the double-negative form, which is especially common in reported speech — e.g.: o “Ethan Johnson, plan recorder for the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, noted that one of the rhododendrons was blooming, and ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if others didn’t have [replace ‘didn’t have’ with ‘had’] flowers on them.'” Suzanne Hively, “Topsy-Turvy Winter Weather Unsettling to Sleeping Plants,” Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 15 Jan. 2000, Your Home §, at 3. o “‘I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t end [replace ‘didn’t end’ with ‘ended’] up calling us back,’ Prewitt said.” Anita Mabante Leach, “‘Charlotte’ in 2 Languages,” Ariz. Republic, 10 Mar. 2000, Sun Cities §, at 1. o “‘I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t just stay [replace ‘didn’t just stay’ with ‘just stayed’] right there,’ Mr. Mathis said.” Susan Vela, “Smith Youngest in State,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 20 Dec. 2000, at B1. Language-Change Index — “wouldn’t be surprised” followed by a negative: Stage 2. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Style is an effective and pleasing individuality of expression. We must not walk in the trodden paths.” Oakley Calvin Johnson, “Allusion and Style,” in The Fred Newton Scott Anniversary Papers 189, 190 (1929).
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