In "The Markenmore Mystery" (1922) by J. S. Fletcher, Harry was talking with his neighbour about his ill old father and the possibility of his death at anytime:

“Well, I must go,” the neighbour said. “You’ll be sure to let me know if there’s anything I can do? But you say Sir Anthony’s not in immediate danger?”

“Not immediate,” replied Harry. “But—any time. And, as he’s fidgety about not being left, you’ll excuse me if I go back to him? If he seems a bit stronger tomorrow, I’ll tell him you’re home again, and no doubt you can see him when you look in. You’ll come again soon?”

Shouldn't it have been "fidgety about being left" to show that he gets nervous when he has been left alone?

2 Answers 2


Fidgety about not being left in the sense that Harry is using it means something like he nervously insists that he not be left alone. You are correct that this is an unusual way to describe Sir Anthony's feeling. It would be more typical to say He's fidgeting at being left [alone]. But from Harry's point of view, his father would fidget and say something like "Don't leave me," so the way in which he describes it is fine.

There's also a nuanced difference in meaning between the two phrasings. Fidgety about not being left puts the emphasis on what Sir Anthony is insisting nervously upon: his not being left. Fidgety about being left would put the emphasis on his feeling nervous when he is left. Harry's way of putting things emphasizes what Sir Anthony does and why, i.e., he fidgets because he doesn't want to be left. The other would foreground how Sir Anthony feels when he is alone: restless and nervous. We expect the latter phrasing, but the former is perfectly fine, if unusual, in context.


Both ways work

"Not being left [alone]" is what the father is fidgety about. He is fidgety about this not happening. When he is not not left alone, he is fidgety. This communicates the same meaning, in perhaps a more complicated way, as "he's fidgety about being left [alone]", where the father would be fidgety about this happening.


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