Double Negatives

Double Negatives

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).

Example :

  • 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:

hardly
scarcely
only (in some contexts; does not apply to “not only…but also”)
neither
never
no one
nobody
nothing
no
none

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.

Correct Sentences

*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. )

 

 

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