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I was wondering if someone could tell me the natural way of saying "I don't think X". The reason is I wrote the following sentence:

普通の食品店で売っていると思いません。

I don't think it's sold at the normal grocery store

However this was corrected to:

普通のスーパーでは売ってないと思うよ。

For the most part I think I understand the corrections. But what I cannot understand is why 売っていると思いません was changed to 売ってないと思う. I don't really see a difference here outside of emphasis / focus. To me 売っていると思いません reads as "I don't think it's sold" and 売ってないと思う reads as "I think it's not sold" in English. And in the end, they ultimately have the same meaning to me.

So was this actually needed / a valid correction? Is it more natural to say negative statementと思う in this case? I have never been corrected using ○○と思いません before and have used it quite often.

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    I would say "negative" followed by a positive 思う. Using a negative 思う would negate the thought. Realize that "I think it is not sold" and "I do not think it is sold" are equivalents in English, but only one way is natural in Japanese.
    – BigRigz
    Apr 16, 2023 at 22:57
  • I was taught, in English, negation tends to come first: I don't think... is more often used than I think ... not ....
    – sundowner
    Apr 16, 2023 at 23:29
  • I had exactly the same confusion when I leaned English (I wrote "I think it's not..." and got corrected). Both are correct and there are cases where …と思わない is more appropriate, but we do tend to default to negative+…と思う.
    – Yosh
    Apr 17, 2023 at 3:53
  • I definitely go to "I don't think..." immediately without even a second thought. "I think... not..." feels very unnatural to me. Something I'll certainly need to get used to for Japanese Apr 17, 2023 at 5:23
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4 Answers 4

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  1. I don't think it's sold at the normal grocery store.
    普通のスーパーで売っているとは思いません。
  2. I think it's not sold at the normal grocery store.
    普通のスーパーでは売っていないと思います。

Both are correct sentences, and they convey the same basic meaning. However, I have heard that English speakers prefer 1 (negation applied to think/思う), whereas Japanese speakers prefer 2 (negation applied to sold/売っている). Ultimately, I think this is a matter of convention, and you have to get used to this fact.

In the Japanese sense, when you say 売っているとは思いません, it gives off a nuance, although subtle, as if you're unnecessarily negating the other person's thoughts ("such an idea is wrong"). 売っていないと思います is neutral and safer in this regard. In particular, 売っていないと思います is much more natural when the listener has no assumption about where it is sold, for example:「ローズマリーが必要ですが、普通のスーパーでは売っていないと思うのでデパートで買ってきてください。」

EDIT: After reading the comments, I just wanted to add this:

  1. 彼女は彼が好きだとは思いません。
    I don't think she likes him.
  2. 彼女は彼が好きではないと思います。
    I think she does not like him.

Both are correct and natural sentences at least in Japanese. In Japanese, Option 1 probably means she does not like or dislike him in particular, whereas Option 2 probably means she actively dislikes him. So there are useful applications for both options. I thought there would be similar differences in English in a case like this, but I might be mistaken.

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    Option 1 is certainly the preferred option for me. Option 2, in a weird unexplainable way, feels very wrong. I can't even think of an example off the top of my head using "I think (negation applied to X)" that doesn't feel wrong immediately Apr 17, 2023 at 5:16
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    @Tylersanzura Oh, is Option 2 that wrong in English? I knew it tends to sound somewhat less natural, but if it's "very wrong", that means I have created many wrong sentences in the past :D In Japanese, the difference of the two is not very large.
    – naruto
    Apr 17, 2023 at 5:29
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    @Tylersanzura and naruto I think it's not wrong to use "I think (negation applied to X)" (and I use that form in this sentence). It has slightly different meaning though. "I think not-X" means "my belief is that X is not true", while "I don't think X" means "I do not have the belief that X is true [but it may also be the case that I also don't have the belief that X is not true, I may simply not have enough information to deduce either way]". Another example of the "I think not-X" form: "I think it's not right for people to abuse pets"
    – justhalf
    Apr 17, 2023 at 8:47
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    Naruto I wouldn't say Option 2 is wrong from a pure grammatical standpoint. People will understand what you mean overall. But it's very unnatural. I unfortunately cannot agree with @justhalf's comment. When reading both of their examples I immediately think "Why isn't this 'I don't think...'?" even though I understand what they are trying to say overall Apr 17, 2023 at 15:13
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    @justhalf That should logically be true, but it isn’t in practice. It is a well-known pattern that in some languages (including English, but not Japanese), when dealing with verbs of feeling, thinking, passing judgement, etc., it’s virtually always the verb that is negated, never its complement clauses. Modals behave the same way (e.g., “I don’t want to go” and “I want to not go” are logically different, but the latter is extremely rare). In such languages, negating the complement will almost always make you sound like a non-native speaker. Apr 17, 2023 at 20:01
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There are countless things that you "don't think"; but only a select few of them are worth mentioning. By bringing them into consideration for discussion, you inherently think about them, and thus consciously have a thought to the contrary.

I would say that Japanese is simply being more logical than English here (not a difficult feat; but also, especially when it comes to negation I find that Japanese is pretty logically rigorous e.g. see how しかない works). "I don't think" is just one of those English set phrases that Japanese doesn't really reflect. It's a particular form of understatement - we generally really do mean that we consciously disbelieve X, even though the literal meaning admits the middle ground of simply not having considered the question. I'm sure you can reflect that kind of understatement in Japanese, but I think you'd have to be even more roundabout.

While I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that I'm missing something and my exposure isn't broad enough, I just can't recall hearing anything like と思いません in my Japanese immersion; that sounds about as unnatural to me as おはよう御座いません.

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I will try to add some understanding. Note the difference:

I think it is not sold.

I do not think it is sold.

Notice that there really is not a difference. However, English and Japanese are not equivalent languages. You may hear the negative 思いません used trying to get agreement, such as

いい天気だと思いませんか。

Otherwise, if you are expressing your thoughts, you will use the positive 思う; note, however, that if you use the negative, you are saying "I do not think [that],"

ここで売っていると思いません。

It says...well, something correct in English. However, this is not commonly said. If you want to speak with natives, you have to follow accepted patterns of speech. It is similar to how from English we want to use pronouns, yet in Japanese it is not allowed (or is inappropriate) in most contexts even though it technically is correct when translated.

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The most natural way to say what you meant would be:

普通の食品店では売っていないと思います。

Using 思うよ instead of 思います is just a question of style. I agree with your teacher that the sentence sounds more natural with は marking 普通の食品店で to add a sense of contrast.

The original sentence is not wrong, but it sounds like you are specifically denying or disagreeing the statement, or someone’s earlier claim, that whatever is referred to is sold at ordinary grocery stores, rather than stating what you think.

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  • This person's style is certainly on the casual side of things. Thanks for the reason behind why は was added too! I was thinking the same thing Apr 17, 2023 at 5:12
  • I have to agree. The only time I tend to hear or use おもっていない is when contradicting someone's claim about what the speaker thinks, e.g. A-san: あたしが太ったと思っているでしょう!B-san: いえ、思っていない、思っていない!
    – Chris Ivan
    Apr 18, 2023 at 12:26

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