What is a Double Negative?
A double negative is a grammatical construction formed from the negative form of a verb (e.g. cannot, do not) with other parts of a sentence. Usually, negative verbs are combined with negative pronouns (e.g. nobody, no one, nothing), adverbs (e.g. hardly, never), or conjunctions (e.g. neither, nor).
A double negative can also have a semantic rather than a grammatical dimension. For example, the sentence, “You should start jogging if you want to become healthier” could be transformed to, “You should start jogging if you want to become less unhealthy.” In this case, double negation makes the sentence look crude, and besides, slightly changes its meaning, making a negative emphasis.
Along with double negations, there can also exist triple or even quadruple negations. For example, the following citation contains a triple negation:
Jack could not lie that he did not feel disappointed.
Even though it may look tricky, in fact this construction means: “Jack was disappointed.”
In literature, you can also find examples of so-called quadruple negations, but they are rare and difficult to understand, so there is no real need to show them.
Positive and Negative Results of Double Negation
In the English language, two negative statements in one sentence results into a positive one; phrases like “I am not dissatisfied” or “I cannot disagree” usually mean “I am pleased” and “I agree” respectively. However, additional context might be needed to clarify the meaning of such double negations.
Double negations can also result in a negative statement; usually, this happens in slang English. For example, a famous song by Ardis “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” (or, in other words, “no one’s business”) or The Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” contain double negations that emphasize the negative meaning.
Typical Double Negative Examples
- Do not need no.
- Ain’t got no.
- Cannot disagree.
- Do not have nothing.
- I am not displeased.
- He is not incompetent.