You may have heard the sentence that two wrongs don’t make a right. While the essence of this statement can certainly be applied to many situations, it isn’t quite true when it comes to double negatives.
If, for example, you said, “I don’t got no money,” you would technically be saying that NO money is the thing you do not have. Thus, if you do not have “no” money, you must have some money…. Confused yet? The confusion that arises from using a double negative is a great reason NOT to use one.
A double negative occurs when you use two negative words or constructions within a single clause. In some languages, such as Russian, Macedonian, Serbian and Croation, if you want to express a negative connotation, you need to use a negative throughout the phrase or sentence. In English, this is not the case. When you have a single clause - one cohesive idea with a subject and an action - you should only have one negative within that clause.
If you do use a double negative, it cancels out into a positive. However, this is not correct and is not an acceptable grammatical construction in English. Some people consider the use of double negatives to be a mark of ignorance, while others simply believe it sounds wrong.
For examples, check out Examples of Double Negatives.
In order to ensure you don’t ever use double negatives in your speech, look at the double negative list below to identify where double negatives are used in the sentences. Every sentence will contain one or more double negatives, so see if you can identify them all.
1. I don’t have no friends. In this sentence, don’t and no are both negatives. This double negative sentence suggests that you are quite popular indeed because you don’t have no friends so you must have some.
2. I couldn’t hardly wait to get to the party. Couldn’t, although a conjunction, is still a negative (not). Hardly is also a negative, so once again you have a double negative construction.
3. I did not barely understand what you were saying. Like question two, did not is a negative and barely is also a negative. This double negative makes it sound as though you were quite well understood.
4. I hardly never heard the bells ring. Hardly and never are both negatives and it is pretty hard to understand exactly what is being said here.
5. Neither fish nor chicken weren’t at the party. Neither…nor is a negative construction, so when combined with weren’t, another negative, it again becomes quite confusing. We’re left wondering what exactly this person ate and whether chicken and fish were on that menu!
6. It never doesn’t rain in Florida. Never and doesn’t are two negatives, leaving you to question whether the author thinks Florida is sunny or whether you’d better bring an umbrella.
7. I couldn’t not cry at the sad movie.
Again, couldn’t is a conjunction for could not. Thus, this sentence literally reads I could not not cry…. Presumably that means you were in tears???
8. I didn’t not want to go to the mall. So did you want to go to the mall then? Didn’t and not are both negatives, so it would seem as though you do.
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