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In Yotsubato Ch. 1, Fuuka asks Ena:

変な子みなかった?

I understand this to mean "Have you seen a strange kid?" But I'm a bit hung up on the negative form of the verb here. Why not ask:

変な子みた?

Is there a difference in meaning or nuance?

I know that negative verbs in questions can be used invitationally or rhetorically as in:

ゲームをいっしょにしない?

or

このケーキは甘すぎじゃない?

But somehow this case seems different to me. Is it the same or related grammar pattern? Or is it a different pattern that someone can point me to?

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When you say 変な子見なかった?, you hope that he saw the kid or you think he probably saw the kid.

小学生の女の子来ませんでしたか?
Did an elementary school girl come here?

When you say this, the situation will be like you are looking for your daughter.

先生来た?
Did teacher come here?

When you say this, the situation will be like you saw the teacher walking toward the classroom, and just asks if he came here.

変な子見なかった? Did you see a strange kid?

When you say this, the situation will be like you saw a strange kid in a restaurant, after you got out of there you ask your friend who you had lunch with.

変な子見た? Did you see a strange kid?

When you say this, the situation will be like you want to tell him why the kid is strange and how funny it is. And you may say “見た?” more loudly for emphasis.

But this is just tendency, nuance. You can say whichever you want.

  • Just a small follow up question (I didn't want to make this into its own, full question): When you want to ask "Have you seen a strange kid?", can you also say "変な子見ていない?" instead of "変な子見なかった?"? – Kaskade Aug 16 at 8:47
  • Reading your comment, I thought more about the question. I’m gonna write about that in the answer. – Yamacure Aug 16 at 9:01
  • Both 見ていない? and 見なかった? are possible. 見ていない? = Have you seen? 見なかった? = Did you see? – Yamacure Aug 16 at 13:45
  • Is there a generalization we can say about this pattern for other negative verbs like this besides 見なかった? Like when verb X is used in negative form as a question, the speaker hopes or thinks X has been done? – octosquakk Aug 16 at 22:45
  • 見なかった, 来なかった, 聞こえなかった, xxしなかった. I think almost all verbs have the tendency. おならした? (Did you cut the cheese?) You’ve heard a sound like a fart, but you think it may not be a fart. おならしなかった? (Did you cut the cheese?) You’re almost convinced. – Yamacure Aug 17 at 2:05

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