Double Negations

Using a negative word with a negative verb is called a double negation. Is it OK to use double negation in English grammar? Let's find out!

"Double Negations" in the English Grammar

What Is a Double Negation?

When two negative words or two negative structures are used in the same sentence, a double negative is formed. Sentences with double negatives are not grammatically correct.

What Are Negative Words?

Here is a list of common negative words that have the power to make a sentence negative.

Common Negative Pronouns

Negative pronouns show the absence of people or things. We do not use another negative in a clause with them. Here are some of the most common ones:

Common Negative Adverbs

  1. No
  2. Not
  3. Never
  4. Barely
  5. Scarcely
  6. Hardly

a case of double negation

Common Negative Verbs

  1. don't/doesn't
  2. isn't/aren't
  3. wasn't/weren't
  4. shouldn't
  5. wouldn't/won't
  6. couldn't/can't

If you use a negative noun and a negative verb, you have a double negative.

I don't want nothing from you!

The correct sentence would be 'I want nothing from you,' or 'I don't want anything from you.'

I can't hardly wait for the waiter to bring my order.

The correct sentence would be 'I can hardly wait for the waiter to bring my order.'

Spoken English

In some dialects of English, you might hear double or triple(!) negatives. Remember that they are not considered acceptable in formal situations or in writing.

We couldn't never work with nobody like that.

He never says nothing interesting to no one.

When Double Negation Is Acceptable!

In some rare occasions, in formal English, you can use not + a negative adjective or adverb in order to make your statements less harsh and more soft:

This year's rise in inflation to 3% was not unexpected.

The repair cost fifty pounds. Oh well, that's not unreasonable.

Review

Normally it is not correct to use a negative adjective, adverb, pronoun, or phrase in a negative sentence, but sometimes to make the sentence less harsh.
Here are some common negative structures.

Common Negative Pronouns Nobody Nothing No one None Nowhere
Common Negative Adverbs
No Not Never
Barely Scarcely Hardly
Common Negative Verbs
Don't/doesn't Isn't/aren't Wasn't/weren't
Shouldn't Wouldn't/Won't Couldn't/Can't

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