Positive Rhetoric: Affirmative Sentences

affirmative sentence
The title of Alice Walker's fourth book of poetry—Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)—is an example of an affirmative sentence. Sean De Burca/Getty Images

The word "affirmative" simply means that you are stating something is so. By extension, in English grammar, an affirmative statement is any sentence or declaration that is positive. An affirmative statement can also be referred to as an assertive sentence or affirmative proposition: "Birds fly," "Rabbits run," and "Fish swim" are all affirmative sentences where the subjects are actively doing something, thereby making a positive statement about the noun in motion.

An affirmative word or sentence is usually contrasted with a negative sentence, which commonly includes the negative particle "not." Examples of negative statements include: "Rabbits don't fly" and "People don't float." An affirmative sentence, by contrast, is a statement that affirms rather than negates a proposition.

Meaning of "Affirmative"

An affirmative word, phrase, or sentence expresses the validity or truth of a basic assertion, while a negative form expresses its falsity. The sentence, "Joe is here" would be an affirmative sentence, while "Joe is not here" would be a negative sentence.

The word "affirmative" is an adjective. It describes something. Affirmative can be defined as affirming or assenting, or asserting the truth, validity, or fact of something. It can also refer to the process of expressing agreement or consent as well as assenting. As noted, it is also a statement that is positive, not negative.

Most of the sentences in this article are affirmative statements in that they affirm the propositions the writer is introducing. Not surprisingly, affirmative sentences make up the majority of spoken English.

Using Affirmative Sentences

Although not essential to conveying clear thought, it would be rather odd if you spoke in only negative sentences, arriving at a point only by denying all other options—such as saying, "The person isn't a boy," when you really mean, she's a girl, or "The house pet is not a bird, reptile, fish, or dog" when you really mean it's a cat. Using the negative in these cases convolutes the sentences; it's better to simply make affirmative statements: "She's a girl," or "The house pet is a cat."

For that reason, most sentences are formed—like this one—as affirmative, unless the speaker or writer is deliberately contradicting a differing point or opinion. Unless you are trying to say "no," your sentence is likely to be affirmative in form. 

Interestingly, the rule of double negatives applies to affirmative sentences as well, meaning that if you say, "I am not not going to the movies," the sentence is affirmative because the meaning of "not not" doing something is that you are doing something.

Polarity

Another way to think of the meaning of affirmative or an affirmative sentence is by exploring the concept of polarity. In linguistics, the distinction between positive and negative forms may be expressed syntactically ("To be or not to be"), morphologically ("lucky" vs. "unlucky"), or lexically ("strong" vs. "weak").

These phrases all contain the affirmative word or phrase and its opposite, a negative word or phrase. "To be or not to be," a famous phrase from Act 3, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet," finds the title character pondering whether he should exist (which would be affirmative) or not exist (which would be negative). In the second example, you could say: "He is lucky," which would be an affirmative statement, or "He is unlucky," which would be a negative statement. In the last example, you might declare, "She is strong," which has an affirmative meaning, or "She is weak (not strong)," which has a negative connotation.

Affirmative vs. Negative

Suzanne Eggins, in her book, "Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics," provides an excellent example that illustrates the meaning of affirmative, and its polar opposite, negative:

A proposition is something that can be argued but argued in a particular way. When we exchange information we are arguing about whether something This harkens to the concept at the beginning of this article: An affirmative word or statement means that something is so, while a negative word or statement—its polar opposite—means that something is not so.

So, the next time you are trying to make a case for a given issue or argue that something is true, remember that you are expressing an affirmative idea: "Donald Trump is a good president," "She is a strong person," or, "He has great character." But, be prepared to defend your position against others who disagree, and would argue the negative: "Donald Trump is not a good president," "She is not a strong person," and, "He has little (or no) character."