Double Negatives

August 17th, 2023 in Grammar by April Michelle Davis 0

For the most part, double negatives in modern English are regarded as things to be avoided. Phrases such as “ain’t got no” and “don’t need no” are a few cringe-worthy examples of double negatives. However, sometimes even grammar enthusiasts can fall victim to more subtle forms of double negatives. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Negative + Negative = PositiveA double negative usually creates a positive statement.

Example: I didn’t do nothing today.

This sentence actually means that you did something today. If you want to say that you spent the day lounging about, then write, “I did nothing today,” or “I didn’t do anything today.”

  1. Watch Out for Hardly and ScarcelyHardly and scarcely are considered negative words. So, “She couldn’t scarcely see over the counter,” means that she could see over the counter.
  2. Using Double Negatives for EmphasisTake, for example, the commonly misused expression, “I couldn’t care less.” What people mean by this is that they don’t care at all about something. However, people often end up saying, “I could care less,” which means that they actually do care. Here, a double negative is appropriate because it emphasizes your negative attitude.

Try It!

Rewrite these sentences so that they form negative statements.

  1. I can’t hardly believe she said that!
    2. I won’t see nothing on this trip.
    3. It’s not uncommon to see Bill up this early.
    4. I don’t have nothing to say.Answers: 1. I can’t believe she said that! /I can hardly believe she said that! 2. I won’t see anything on this trip. /I will see nothing on this trip; 3. It’s uncommon to see Bill up this early. /It’s not common to see Bill up this early; 4. I have nothing to say. /I don’t have anything to say.