A negative word is used in a sentence to turn the sentence negative. However, the use of double negatives does the opposite. They turn the sentence into a positive one. Meaning the intention of the sentence changes. This is the reason why English experts discourage the use of double negatives in sentences.
That said, they are used in daily conversation sometimes. Double negatives are used in an informal and not in a formal setting. Here is a brief explanation of what double negatives are, with examples.
|Double negative||Single negative|
|Neg + neg: I couldn’t find no paper.||Neg: I couldn’t find any paper.|
|Neg + neg: I don’t want nothing.||Neg: I don’t want anything.|
What Are Double Negatives?
What are double negatives in the English language?
The simple definition of double negatives occurs when two negative words are used in a single sentence. However, using such words in a sentence makes the sentence grammatically incorrect.
|Double negative /ˈdəbəl ˈneɡədiv/||a negative statement containing two negative elements (for example he didn’t say nothing)|
He can not speak no English.
The sentence contains two negative words, “not” and “no.” In this sentence, the speaker wants to convey that the person doesn’t know how to speak English.
However, because of the two negative words, the sentence conveys the opposite meaning: the person speaks English.
Here the two double negatives contradict each other and transform the sentence into a positive one, just like in math. In math, -2 x -3 is +6. The use of double negatives makes the sentence confusing, which is why they are discouraged from using English.
That said, they are used in some cases. The article will explain how they are used in the following sections. But before that, here is an overview of the construction of subject-predicate + one negative word sentences.
Understanding Subject-Predicate Construction And One Negative Form
She is basking on the beach.
Here the subject is “she,” and “basking on the beach” is the predicate. It is a predicate because basking on the beach refers to what the subject is doing. This is a brief explanation of what a subject and a predicate are. In such a sentence, if a negative word is added, it is – subject + negative + predicate.
- Every sentence should have a subject and a predicate otherwise, the sentence is incomplete.
- A subject should have a noun or a pronoun, while the predicate should have a verb.
- The rule is to have only one negative form in a sentence.
- A negative word shouldget added to the verb to construct a negative sentence.
Examples (Subject-Predicate + Negative Word)
- She can’t play basketball. Here “she” is the subject. “Play basketball” is the predicate. “Can’t” is the negative word added to the verb “play.”
- I won’t eat at that restaurant. Here “I” is the subject. “Eat at the restaurant” is the predicate. “Won’t” is the negative word added to the verb “eat.”
- Ross does not work in his field. Here “Ross” is the subject. “Work in his field” is the predicate. “Does not” is the negative word added to the verb “work.”
- The siblings are not going to Sydney next month. Here the “siblings” is the subject. “Going to Sydney next month” is the predicate. “Are not” is the negative word added to the verb “going.”
- Tom is not visiting the shopping mall. Here “Tom” is the subject. “Visiting the shopping mall” is the predicate. “Is not” is the negative word added to the verb “visiting.”
How Double Negatives Are Used
As mentioned earlier, double negatives are used in some cases. Double negative sentences are created by combining negative verbs and negative pronouns, or negative adverbs, and are also created by combining negative verbs with negative conjunctions.
Verb Negation + Negative (Pronoun, Adverb, Conjunction)
Verb Negation + Negative Pronoun
He was not helping nobody.
Here, “was not + helping” is the negative verb. “Nobody” is a negative pronoun. Using both negative words, the sentence gives a negative meaning.
Verb Negation + Negative Adverb
A sentence with double negative words is possible when a negative verb is added to a negative adverb. Hardly, seldom, nowhere, and never are a few negative adverbs.
He can’t go nowhere alone.
The sentence means that the person cannot go anywhere alone. “Can’t + go” is the negative verb, and “nowhere” is the negative adverb. Using both words gives a negative meaning to the sentence.
Verb Negation + Negative Conjunctions
A sentence with double negative words is possible when a negative verb is added to negative conjunction.
She did not speak neither English nor French.
Here “did not + speak” is a negative verb, and “neither” and “nor” are negative conjunctions. Both double negative words give a negative meaning to the sentence.
- I cannot remember nothing from the movie. (negative verb (cannot remember) + negative pronoun (nothing)).
- He did not allow no one to leave the class early. (negative verb (did not allow) + negative pronoun (no one))
- I did not eat hardly any food at the party. (negative verb (did not eat) + negative adverb(hardly)).
- She does not help neither her mother nor her father. (negative verb (does not help) + negative conjunctions (neither and nor))
- He did not get neither promotion nor a salary hike. (negative verb (did not get) + negative conjunctions (neither and nor)).
Are There Double Negatives In Spanish?
In English, the use of double negatives is discouraged. They are considered grammatically incorrect, but this is not the case in Spanish. Double negatives are not only used in daily conversations by Spanish speakers but also are considered grammatically correct. Not only double negatives even triple negatives are possible in the Spanish language.
There are two ways to construct double negative sentences in Spanish.
- Adding “no” before the verb + using Spanish adverbs that indicate denial. Here is the structure – No + verb + Spanish adverbs that indicate denial + complement.
- Adding “no” before the verb + using indefinite pronouns. Here is the structure – No + verb + Spanish indefinite pronouns + complement.
How To Avoid Using Double Negatives
Double negatives are grammatically incorrect in English. Using them will only create confusion in reading the sentences. Here are a few ways to avoid using double negatives in English writing.
- Avoid using no or not with negative prefixes like un-, and in-. Don’t use no/not with words like unintelligent, unimpressed, etc. Example: not unintelligent or not unnecessary.
- Avoid using no/not with negative words like fail, terminate, void, etc.
- Avoid using no or not with “unless” which is kind of a negative word.
- Avoid using no or not with “until” which is also a negative word.
Are Double Negatives Grammatically Correct?
Double negatives are grammatically incorrect. Two negatives should not be used in a sentence because it makes the whole sentence confusing. Having such words in a sentence makes it difficult for the reader to understand the sentence.
Only one negative word should be there in a sentence. This is because the whole purpose of a negative sentence is to convey a negative meaning using a single negative word. On the other hand, using double negatives to maintain the sentence’s negative meaning is impossible. When double negatives are used, each contradicts the other and turns the sentence’s meaning into a positive.
Are There Any Instances Where Double Negatives Are Used?
Many English experts say that they are grammatically incorrect. They can’t be used in a formal setting, but people informally use double negatives, particularly when conversing. They are spoken in some regional dialects of English. In languages like Spanish, the use of double negatives is common. They are used in conversations and as well as in formal settings.
- Double Negative Sentences & Questions
- Double Negative: Explanation and Examples
- Should You Avoid Using Double Negatives? | Thesaurus.com
- Double Negatives In Spanish: Explained in 5 minutes
- What are the subject and predicate of a sentence in English?
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- Abstract Noun
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