GrammarPhile Blog

Use (or misuse) of Double Negatives

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Feb 23, 2010 5:00:00 AM

Most (dare we say ALL?) readers will realize that the following double negative is grammatically incorrect: "They don't have no skis." However, even many literate writers might miss the double negative in the next sentence:

"We won't be able to accept your invitation to attend the competition on September 13 nor even the one on September 15." Change nor to or. Reason: The word won't covers both the competition on September 13 and the one on September 15.

Here are examples of double negatives used correctly:

  • He was not unfriendly.
  • Not for nothing was he called Andre the Giant.

Caution: Don't confuse this instruction with neither ... nor.

Neither ... Nor
Use a singular verb and a singular pronoun in the following sentence: "Neither Tulabell nor Sassafras was ready to begin her session."

However, if the subject nearer the verb is plural, use the plural forms: "Neither Tulabell nor the other skiers were ready to begin their sessions."

The same rule applies to either ... or.

JUST FOR FUN:

"Double negatives not withstanding," bellowed the stuffy professor, "in English, one negative means no, and two negatives mean yes. But two positives can never mean no." "Yeah, right," moaned the class moron from the back row.

Topics: double negatives, double negative, singular verb

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