What Are Double Negatives? (with Examples)

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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!)

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