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I understand that 非 and 不 have negative meanings by themselves, and 得 means "must" by itself. So with a double negative, which means affirmative positive. So far so good.

But 非得 by itself is also "must". Single negative. Also positive. Why?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

非得 itself is always negative. The sentence contains only 非得 could be positive when there is a 2nd negative (most likely 不可) being omitted. This omission is common in colloquial language but not as common in written language or formal speeches.

Reference #1 below is a semantic analysis for the pattern 非..不可. It mentions the fact that 不可 can be omitted.

Reference #2 contains a lot of literature/publication citations where the 2nd negative of a double negative sentence is omitted.

In reference #3 the writer thinks the omission is grammatically wrong and is due to people not treating the language seriously.

References:

1. “非……不可”句式在对外汉语教学中的研究

2. 无可无不可的“不可”

3. 肯定、否定、否定之否定

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Thanks! Does that mean I have to understand from context if the 不可 is omitted or not? –  uncovery Feb 1 '13 at 3:04
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@uncovery For 非得 you can safely assume it's meant to be double negative. For 非 (without 得) it depends on the context. –  NS.X. Feb 1 '13 at 3:54
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