What is a Double Negative?
A negative statement containing two negative elements is known as a Double Negative. A double negative is usually produced by combining the negative form of verb (e.g., cannot, did not, have not) with a negative pronoun (e.g., nothing, nobody), a negative adverb (e.g., never, hardly) or a negative conjunction (e.g., neither/nor).
- I didn’t see nothing.
- It wasn’t uninteresting.
- She is not unattractive.
A double negative gives the sentence a positive sense. For example:
- “He didn’t see nothing.” = “He saw something.”
- “She claims she has not seen neither Paul nor John.” = “She claims she has seen either Paul or John.”
Often, the positive sense is not what the speaker is trying to say, but a double negative is not always an error. Look at this example:
- “She is not unattractive.” = “She is attractive.”
(Of course, not unattractive could also mean average looking. It depends on context.)
Double Negatives to Avoid
Never use not in the same sentence as the following:
only (in some contexts; does not apply to “not only…but also”)
Here are some examples of sentences that rarely cause confusion and are incorrect in standard English:
*She was so weak she couldn’t hardly sit up.
*Scarcely nobody came to my party.
*I can’t stay only a few minutes.
*I didn’t know neither her telephone number nor her address.
*I never saw no one I thought prettier.
*I don’t know nothing about building a compost pile.
*We don’t need no education
*I don’t want none of those escargots.
*She was so weak she could hardly sit up.
*Scarcely anybody came to my party.
*I can stay only a few minutes.
*I knew neither her telephone number nor her address.
*I never saw anyone I thought prettier.
*I don’t know anything about building a compost pile.
*We don’t need an education
*I don’t want any of those escargots.
What about a Triple Negative?
You do not see triple negatives often, but here is a witty one:
- I cannot say that I do not disagree with you.
(This quote by Groucho Marx is a triple negative. If you follow it through logically, you’ll find it means I disagree with you. )