One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A negative statement containing two negative elements (for example he didn't say nothing).
- ‘Ain't wasn't a problem; double negatives didn't trouble me; ‘we gotta go’ and the like were fine.’
- ‘And the double negative has complete legitimacy in some other European languages.’
- ‘As a result, reminders to offenders have often been couched in such terms as: Mind your grammar - no double negatives!’
- ‘In some English dialects, after all, a double negative reinforces a negative, it doesn't negate it.’
- ‘I might not know how to conjugate verbs in the preterit, but I knew a double negative when I heard one or when a poem had way too much detail.’
- 1.1 A positive statement in which two negative elements are used to produce the positive force, usually for some particular rhetorical effect, for example there is not nothing to worry about!
- ‘Now, my Lord, what I would say is if this sentence has a double negative in it, ‘are not incompatible’, my friend would be content or would have to be content.’
- ‘Although Lord Hoffmann had there used a double negative, he held that toleration by the landowner was consistent with user as of right.’
- ‘Whenever a lawyer uses a double negative like this, watch out: there's something else more straightforward that he didn't say.’
- ‘The obvious difference is here the use of a double negative; not ‘every single note in my version is by Mendelssohn’, but ‘Not a note is not by Mendelssohn’.’
- ‘He, who is master of the double negative, does admit, however: ‘I would not say that individuals are not trying to make connections to radical groups, but in my experience, that would be an extreme minority.’’
- ‘Some of the questions seem strange at first - they're double negatives and repetitive - but I think they just want to make sure you are answering them truthfully.’
According to standard English grammar, a double negative used to express a single negative, such as I don't know nothing (rather than I don't know anything), is incorrect. The rules dictate that the two negative elements cancel each other out to give an affirmative statement, so that I don't know nothing would be interpreted as I know something. In practice this sort of double negative is widespread in dialect and other non-standard usage and rarely gives rise to confusion as to the intended meaning. Double negatives are standard in certain other languages such as Spanish and they have not always been unacceptable in English, either. The double negative was normal in Old English and Middle English and did not come to be frowned upon until some time after the 16th century, when attempts were made to relate the rules of language to the rules of formal logic. Modern (correct) uses of the double negative give an added subtlety to statements: saying I am not unconvinced by his argument suggests reservations in the speaker's mind that are not present in its ‘logical’ equivalent: I am convinced by his argument.
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