GrammarPhile Blog

Double Negatives

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jun 14, 2011 5:30:00 AM

True or False: Never Use Two Negatives in the Same Sentence
The logic behind this rule is that two negatives in the same construction cancel each other out. When we say, "We never did nothing," what we are saying, in effect, is that "At no time did we ever do nothing," which means that at all times we did something. Something like that, anyway.

The problem with this otherwise logical rule is that it fails to make a crucial distinction: the difference between double negatives that occur in the same clause, and double negatives that occur in a sentence that has two clauses, each with its own negative expression.

It is not that we do not support you in your plan to win the Olympic downhill event in Torino in 2006. It is just that we think you need to learn to ski before you buy your plane ticket. (This is acceptable English because the two negatives in the first sentence are parts of different clauses.)

It isn't that we don't like you. It's just that you cannot ski the black diamond trails with us. (Ditto.)

We never intended not to go to the Olympics and watch you. (Again, the two negatives are parts of different clauses.)
We never wanted no trouble from you. (Not acceptable English because both negatives are parts of the same clause.)

Source: Grammar For Smart People

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Topics: double negatives, double negative, negatives

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