What Are Double Negatives? (with Examples)

Our most common search themes:
apostrophe
semicolon
adjective
verb


What Are Double Negatives? (with Examples)

A double negative is usually produced by combining the negative form of a 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:
  • I didn't see nothing.
  • I did not have neither her address nor her phone number.
  • It wasn't uninteresting.
  • She is not unattractive.
A double negative gives the sentence a positive sense. For example:
  • "He didn't see nothing."   =   "He saw something."
  • "She claims she has not seen neither Paul nor John."   =   "She claims she has seen either Paul or John."
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:
  • "She is not unattractive."   =   "She is attractive."
  • (Of course, not unattractive could also mean average looking. It depends on context.)
When used to mean attractive, the double negative not unattractive carries a connotation of the speaker being factual as opposed to complimentary.

A Double Negative Is Usually an Error

A double negative is usually an error because it portrays a positive sense when a negative one is intended. In reality, readers nearly always understand the intended meaning, but a writer's credibility is always damaged when a double-negative error is made.


"The secret to being a likeable grammarian is knowing when to shut up."

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!)
 
 


More Free Help...

All the lessons and tests on Grammar Monster are free. Here's some more free help:

Follow Us on Twitter Follow us on Twitter
Like us on Facebook Follow us on Facebook
by Craig Shrives Follow us on Google+
mail tip Sign up for our daily tip emails
Chat about grammar Ask a grammar question
Search Search this site

Buy Some Help...

Too busy to read everything on Grammar Monster? Here are the paid services we recommend to learn grammar and to keep your writing error free:

Paste your text into Grammarly's online interface for corrections and recommendations. (Free trial available)

Press F2 while using Word, PowerPoint, etc., for corrections and recommendations. (Free trial available)

Send your text to a trained editor and grammar geek for checking. (Free trial available)

Learn English (or another language) with a state-of-the-art program. (Free trial available)

Buy Our Book...

Buy "Grammar Rules: Writing with Military Precision" by Craig Shrives (founder of Grammar Monster).


More info...