Double Negative

What Is Double Negative?

Double Negative is the collective use of two or more negative words in the same sentence. Most double negative found in spoken and written Standard English are inappropriate, except in informal or jocular contexts, as:

  • √  “I'm not hungry no more.”
  • √  “I can’t do nothing about it.”

During the epoch of Eighteenth-century, GrammariansOpens in new window decided that since two negativesOpens in new window made a positive in MathematicsOpens in new window and LogicOpens in new window, they must likewise turn the thoughtOpens in new window or sentence in the English language into a positive one too. This was not always the case in all languages.

Although, some languages, such as SpanishOpens in new window, ItalianOpens in new window, RussianOpens in new window, PortugueseOpens in new window, PersianOpens in new window, NeapolitanOpens in new window, CzechOpens in new window, and particularly, Non-standard EnglishOpens in new window languages, all have what is called Negative ConcordOpens in new window or emphatic negation by which double negatives cancel out one another and turns the thought or sentence Opens in new window into a positive one; however, in other languages, a double negative merely increases the degree of the negation Opens in new window.

What brings about double negatives?

Double negatives or Multiple negatives (as referred, in a more general term) occurs when there is more than one negative in a clause. Geoffrey ChaucerOpens in new window, as well as William ShakespeareOpens in new window, at some point or the other made use of double and even triple negatives: these were simply powerful, heavily stressed, multiple negatives. Contemporary speakers still use these constructions today, even though they are now shibbolethsOpens in new window that mark speakers of Vulgar English.

Double Negatives normally exists in the form of a verbOpens in new window (e.g cannot, did not, have not”), with a pronounOpens in new window (e.g “nothing, nobody”), an adverb (e.g “never, hardly”), and or a conjunctionOpens in new window (e.g “neither, nor”).

To paraphrase Kenneth Wilson’s views, “Can’t hardly” is also classified as a double negative. The expression “You can’t hardly expect her to be grateful,” when intensively observed, is doubly negative, in that “You can’t expect her to be grateful” is renegated by the overlay of “You can hardly expect her to be grateful.” Other adverbsOpens in new window of a negative quality, such as scarcely, are also considered double negatives when used with a negative verbOpens in new window such as can’t or cannot.”

Double Negative and Correction Examples
    Double Negative Expression:
  • That won’t do you no good.
  • Intended Expression:
  • That won't do you any good
    Double Negative Expression:
  • I ain’t got no time for supper
  • Intended Expression:
  • I ain't got time for supper
    Double Negative Expression:
  • I can’t find my keys nowhere.
  • Intended Expression:
  • I can't find my keys anywhere
    Double Negative Expression:
  • She never goes with nobody
  • Intended Expression:
  • She never goes with anybody/somebody
    Double Negative Expression:
  • Andy has not seen neither Branson nor Gretchen all day.
  • Intended Expression:
  • Andy has not seen either Branson or Gretchen all day.
  • OR:
  • Andy has seen neither Branson nor Gretchen all day
    Double Negative Expression:
  • ou can’t see no one in this crowd.
  • Intended Expression:
  • You can't see any one in this crowd.
    Double Negative Expression:
  • You don't know nothing.
  • Intended Expression:
  • You don't know anything
  • OR:
  • You know nothing.
    Double Negative Expression:
  • There aren’t no present left to open.
  • Intended Expression:
  • There aren't any present left to open
    Double Negative Expression:
  • The property did not have none of the facilities they wanted.
  • Intended Expression:
  • The property did not have any of the facilities they wanted
    Double Negative Expression:
  • All the witnesses claimed that they didn’t see nothing.
  • Intended Expression:
  • All the witnesses claimed that they didn't see anything.
    Double Negative Expression:
  • We haven’t never seen a tornado that big.
  • Intended Expression:
  • We have never seen a tornado that big.
    Double Negative Expression:
  • That attitude won’t get you nowhere.
  • Intended Expression:
  • That attitude won't get you anywhere.
Double negative using prefix

Sometime a negative can be formed by attaching the prefixes ir-, in-, non- and un-. Here are some examples:

  • The evidence is certainly not irrefutable.
  • This gem is not uncommon.
  • The results are not inconclusive.
  • His rebuttal was clearly not nonsensical.
  • The price of the car is not insignificant.
  • It is not unnecessary to tell the truth all the time.
  • The new disease wasn’t non-infectious.
  • He wasn’t irresponsible about his duties.
Double Negative with Negative Words

Double negative can also be created using a negative word with another word that acts like a negative. Below are some examples:

Key WordsDouble Negative Sentences
BarelyI can’t barely see where I am going in this fog.
BarelyShe did not barely understand the instructions.
HardlyI hardly have no money.
HardlyIt wasn’t hardly midnight when we saw the meteor shower.
RarelyHe is not rarely a visitor at the park.
RarelyAndy wasn’t rarely present at openings.
ScarcelyThe news of the company’s bankruptcy made scarcely no impact.
ScarcelyThe Southeast had scarcely no rain last year.
SeldomWe don’t watch mmovies seldom.
SeldomAndy doesn’t go there seldom since his bad experience.
Double Negative in Song Lyrics
  • I can’t get no satisfaction — The Rolling Stones
  • I wasn’t looking for nobody when you looked my way — Rihanna
  • We don’t need no education — Pink Floyd
  • I can’t get no sleep — Faithless
  • Got nothing to hide no more — Backstreet Boys
  • There ain’t no rest for the wicked — Cage the Elephant
  • And there ain’t nothin’ in this world for free — Cage the Elephant
  • My forbidden lover, I don’t know no other — Chic
  • Ain’t no mountain high enough — Marvin Gaye
Further Readings:
Grammar-monster.com Double NegativeOpens in new window