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not in the least vs. not at all

hirashin

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Dear native English speakers,
I have a little question. Would you help me?
Would all the following sentences be commonly used?
If so, do all of them have the same meaning?

1a) I'm not tired in the least.
1b) I'm not in the least tired.
2a) I'm not tired at all.
2b) I'm not at all tired.
3) I'm never tired.

Thanks in advance.

Hirashin
 
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1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, are all so similar that trying to pinpoint any meaningful difference in them would be futile. I don't know about the relative frequency of each, but I think that is a side issue - they are all grammatically acceptable and they all sound fine.
3 of course is a bit different because it makes a statement that is supposed to last for all time (while the previous four statements could be temporary).
 

hirashin

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Thanks for the help, Majestic.

How about this ?
4a) Mr. White doesn't smile at all.
4b) Mr. White never smile.

I believe that neither of them are temporary.

Hirashin
 
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They are both very similar, aren't they. But to my mind, "never" is a definitive, absolute statement. There is no room for negotiation when you use the word "never". Even with the addition of the fairly strident "at all" at the end of 4a, it doesn't strike me as absolute, definitive, or as time-independent as "never", and so it feels to me to be a somewhat more qualified statement.

But these are subtleties of style rather than grammar, I think, and so they are subject to individual interpretation. In general 4a and 4b both imply that Mr. White is not a smiling person, so in this regard they are close to being identical (note you will want to say "Mr. White never smiles"). The difference is subtle. Maybe good for experienced students to discuss, but definitely over the head of most beginners.
 
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Majestic is right,
"Mr White never smiles" has a subtle difference in the mind of many English speakers than "Mr White doesn't smile at all". "doesn't smile at all" feels slightly less definitive, it is as if Mr White, could one day smile but, if you say he "never smiles" it gives the reader/listener a feeling that he, never has and never will.
 
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