Double Negatives: What Are They and Should You Avoid Them?

Double negatives are an often misunderstood grammatical construct for native and non-native English speakers. They occur when you use two negative words or phrases in the same sentence.

This article will explore what they are, why you should avoid them, and how to avoid them in writing. So, read on if you’re keen to understand these phrases better.

What Are Double Negatives?

As its name suggests, double negatives have two negative words in the same sentence. It often occurs when you use two negative words, such as “not,” “no,” “none,” “never,” or “neither,” to emphasize a thought. For example, saying “I don’t have no money” is a double negative.

Sometimes, you can create these negatives by adding un- prefixes to words like “unfortunately” or “unlikely.” This is called an intensifier, which strengthens a word’s meaning. For example, if you said, “I am not unhappy about this situation,” this sentence contains a double negative.

Negative Prefix 

  • in-
  • un- 
  • non- 
  • de-
  • dis-
  • a-
  • anti-
  • im-
  • il-
  • ir

Negative Adverbs

  • Hardly
  • Little
  • Never
  • Only
  • Scarcely 
  • Seldom

Examples of Double Negative Sentences

Below are some double negative examples and their incorrect versions:

1. Correct: There was nobody in the room.
2. Incorrect: There wasn’t nobody in the room.

3. Correct: We can hardly wait any longer.
4. Incorrect: We can’t hardly wait no longer.

5. Correct: She never says anything about it.
6. Incorrect: She never says nothing about it.

7. Correct: Nobody thinks so.
8. Incorrect: Nobody don’t think so.

Song Lyrics With Double Negatives

  • “Ain’t no mountain high enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell 
  • “Never wanted nothing more” – Kenny Chesney
  • “I can’t get no sleep” – Faithless
  • “Ain’t no sunshine” – Bill Withers 
  • “Ain’t no other man” – Christina Aguilera
  • “I can’t get no satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones

Why Should You Avoid Double Negatives?

Unlike in math, when you add two negatives, they cancel each other out, resulting in positive results. In standard English, using two negatives doesn’t make the statement positive; it makes it wrong.

Remember, using a double negative in English can lead to confusion. Let’s look at an example:

 “I don’t want no pizza.” The speaker has used two negative words – the word “don’t” and the contraction “no.” But these words don’t cancel each other out but make a vague statement. A better way to say this would be: “I don’t want any pizza.”

Fun Fact: Some English dialects and languages like Spanish use double negatives and triple negatives. 

How Do You Avoid Negative Statements?

Double negatives are double-edged swords. They can be useful when crafting beautiful poetry, but they can make a simple statement more confusing than ever. Here are some tips to ensure you adhere to English grammar rules. 

Remove Unnecessary Negatives

When expressing something negatively, use other words like “without” or “lack of.” This is instead of using two negative words together like “no” and “not.” For example, say, “I lack sufficient funds” rather than “I don’t have no money.”

Choose More Precise Terminology

Use clear and concise language when expressing yourself so that you avoid these negatives. Instead of saying, “I haven’t seen anybody around here,” use phrases like “I haven’t seen anyone nearby.” This way, there will be no negative confusion in your statement.

Rephrase Your Statements

Instead of “It ain’t gonna work,” rephrase it more positively. You could employ a phrase like “It won’t work this time around or at least not right away.” This will help keep conversations friendly and constructive while conveying the same message effectively without any negativity.

Use illustrations or examples to help emphasize your point

Using examples will help you avoid potential misunderstandings because it is easier for readers to understand and process than long, complicated statements full of negative words or phrases.

Practice Makes Perfect

Try out creative alternatives, such as synonyms for commonly used negative terms like “no” or “not.” You can even find ways to rephrase your points without relying on “negatives.” Doing this will help drop any unnecessary confusion caused by double negatives. 

Bottom Line

The double negative meaning is that these negatives occur when you use two negative words or phrases in the same sentence. Using them in writing can create confusion, misunderstandings, and false assumptions about your words. Additionally, using them can change the tone of the conversation from positive to negative. For these reasons, avoid using double negatives and always stick to a single negation, whether in writing or speaking

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