What Is a Double Negative? (with Examples)
Double NegativeA double negative occurs when two negative terms are used in the same sentence.
Easy Examples of Double Negatives
- I ain't got no money.
- I didn't see nothing.
- I couldn't find it nowhere.
Real-Life Examples of Double NegativesA double negative is usually created 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).
- My daughter Chantelle wouldn't shout at nobody. (A negative verb with the negative pronoun nobody)
- Chantelle didn't never call the teacher that word. (A negative verb (didn't call) with the negative adverb never)
- She did not have neither her address nor her phone number. (A negative verb with the negative conjunction neither/nor)
- Yeah, but, no, but there's this thing you don't know nuffin' about, so don't give me no evils. (Vicky Pollard) (A negative verb with the negative pronoun nuffin' [sic] and then a negative verb with the negative noun phrase no evils)
"The secret to being a likeable grammarian is knowing when to shut up."
What about a Triple Negative or a Double Positive?You don't see triple negatives often, but here's a witty one:
- I cannot say that I do not disagree with you. (Comedian Groucho Marx) (If you follow it through logically, you'll find it means "I disagree with you".)
Why Should I Care about Double Negatives?There are two good reasons to care about double negatives:
(Reason 1) A double negative is usually a mistake.A double negative that portrays a positive sense when a negative one is intended is a mistake. If it occurs in writing, it's a grammatical howler. If one occurs in speech, it can usually be dismissed as a slip of the tongue. (Well, one can. More than one can't.)
- Russ didn't steal nothing. (Logically, this means Russ stole something. In reality, readers nearly always understand the intended meaning.)
(Reason 2) A double negative can provide a touch of diplomacy or subtlety.With the following double negatives, the resultant positive meaning is intentional.
- He is not unattractive.
- He is not unconvincing.
- He is not without charm.
"He is not unattractive" is subtler than "He is attractive." As these double-negative constructions sound more factual than complimentary or unkind, they can be useful when a touch of diplomacy or subtlety is required.