A double negative is usually produced by combining the negative form of verb (e.g., cannot, did not, have not) with a negative pronoun (e.g.,
nothing, nobody), a negative adverb (e.g., never, hardly) or a negative conjunction (e.g., neither/nor).
Examples of Double Negatives
Here are some examples of double negatives:
A double negative gives the sentence a positive sense. For example:
- I didn't see nothing.
- I did not have neither her address nor her phone number.
- It wasn't uninteresting.
- She is not unattractive.
Often, the positive sense is not what the speaker is trying to say, but a double negative is not always an error. Look at this example:
- "He didn't see nothing." = "He saw something."
- "She claims she has not seen neither Paul nor John." = "She claims she has either Paul or John."
When used to mean attractive, the double negative not unattractive carries a connotation of the speaker being factual as opposed to complimentary.
- "She is not unattractive." = "She is attractive."
(Of course, not unattractive could also mean average looking. It depends on context.)
What about a Triple Negative?
You do not see triple negatives often, but here is a witty one:
- I cannot say that I do not disagree with you.
(This quote by Groucho Marx is a triple negative. If
you follow it through logically, you'll find it means I disagree with you. Genius!)
Double negative with neither/nor
What is a double comparative?
What are pronouns?
What are adverbs?
What are conjunctions?
Glossary of grammatical terms