Posted by: episystechpubs | November 21, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Can’t get no satisfaction.

When does a negative plus a negative equal a positive? Both in math and in English! Using double negatives in English, however, is considered poor form and it leads to people saying one thing when they mean another. For example, “I don’t know nothing” not only sounds bad, but “I don’t” (negative) plus “know nothing” (negative) actually means that you do know something.

A double negative occurs when you use two negative words to express a single negative idea. In English, there are four ways to express negation:

1) Adding the negative adverb “not” to a sentence or clause:
He is not experienced.
She isn’t afraid.

2) Using a “negative” word:
I saw nothing through the fog.
Nobody does it better.
There was nowhere to sit after it rained.
Neither of the cats liked the taste of quail.

3) Converting an affirmative word by adding a negative prefix (such as dis-, un-, non-, in-, etc.):

Affirmative Negative
agreeable disagreeable
cooperative uncooperative
appropriate inappropriate
compliant non-compliant

4) Using one of the following adverbs which can also behave as a negative word:

· hardly

· barely

· scarcely

· seldom

· rarely

Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Combining two items from the different categories above is the equation for a double negative, so don’t do it.

Examples of common double negatives and alternative sentences to use instead:

Incorrect: I didn’t see nothing. (double negative = I did see something.)

Correct: I didn’t see anything. (single negative = I did not see anything.)

Correct: I saw nothing. (single negative = I did not see anything.)

Incorrect: She couldn’t hardly wait for her birthday.

Correct: She could hardly wait for her birthday.

Incorrect: He never talked down to nobody.

Correct: He never talked down to anybody.

Incorrect: We don’t need no stinking badges.

Correct: We don’t need any stinking badges.

Incorrect: I did not bring neither a brush nor a comb.

Correct: I did not bring either a brush or a comb.

Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries for assistances with the concepts and examples today.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

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