English Language Blog

Double negatives in English Posted by on Oct 22, 2013 in English Grammar

A double negative is when there are two negative words (like ‘no’ and ‘nothing’) in one sentence. In some languages this type of grammar is allowed. In fact in some languages using two negatives intensifies the negative statement, but in English, double negatives are generally not allowed. In fact, in English using two negative words in one sentences cancels out the negative meaning and makes a positive statement! So, you have to be careful what you are saying when you are trying to make a negative statement in English. You only want to use one negative word in each sentence, otherwise you are creating a double negative.

A double negative sentence construction in English is usually made by combining the negative form of a verb (like ‘cannot’ or ‘did not’), with a negative pronoun (like ‘nothing’ or ‘nobody’) or a negative adverb (like ‘never’), or a negative conjunction word (like ‘neither’ or ‘nor’) in one sentence.

Here are some examples of double negative sentences in English. Remember these are sentences you shouldn’t say!

1. I didn’t do nothing.
2. He is not unattractive.
3. Paul didn’t buy it neither.
4. It wasn’t uninteresting.
5. I haven’t got no money.

Since in English two negatives make a positive this is what these sentences are really saying.
1. I did something.
2. He is attractive.
3. Paul bought it.
4. It was interesting.
5. I’ve got money.

But, here is what is probably meant by the original 5 sentences and how they can be said correctly, without using double negatives.

1. I didn’t do anything.
2. He is attractive. or He is unattractive.
3. Paul didn’t buy it either.
4. It wasn’t interesting. or It was uninteresting.
5. I haven’t got any money.

The take away from this post is to try not to use two negative words in one sentence in English. Even though people may understand what you say, you may not be saying what you what you think you are saying.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.