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Double Negatives

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Basics on the topic Double Negatives

What Are Double Negatives?

Do you want to know more about double negatives in English? Learn everything about double negatives, how to spot them and how to fix them through our video and activities!

Double Negatives – Definition

A negative statement is one that includes negative words like not, no, no one or nothing. It tells us that something isn’t the case.

A double negative statement includes two negative words.

Double negation sentences are problematic because the two negative words cancel each other out. They turn the statement into a positive one – just the opposite of what it was supposed to be!

Avoiding double negatives is important because double negation in grammar is confusing. Double negatives make the meaning of your statement unclear.

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Double Negatives – Examples

Here are some examples of double negatives in English. The negative words are in italics.

  • I don’t have no gum.
  • She never saw no one.
  • Koko didn’t go nowhere.
  • Pip can’t do nothing about the weather.
  • Nobody’s saying nothing.
  • We didn’t go there neither.

Historic and Literary Origins of Double Negatives

A long time ago, people spoke English differently, and using double negatives was more common. Over time, the English language changed, and it was considered incorrect to use double negatives. However, double negatives are still sometimes used in informal English.

Double negatives appear in some literary works, such as Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, for example, in the quote “That's all, old chap, and don't never do it no more.” In this case, a double negative is used to make the character sound more real and authentic.

Avoiding Double Negatives

Now that we’ve looked at some examples of double negatives, let’s look at ways of avoiding double negatives. You can do this by taking out negative words and/or using positive words like any, anywhere, anyone or anything.

We’ll look at the examples from above to see how we can do this.

Double Negative Sentence Correct Negative Sentence Alternative Correct Sentence
I don’t have no gum. I don’t have any gum. I have no gum.
She never saw no one. She never saw anyone. She saw no one.
Koko didn’t go nowhere. Koko didn’t go anywhere. Koko went nowhere.
Pip can’t do nothing about the weather. Pip can’t do anything about the weather. Pip can do nothing about the weather.
Nobody’s saying nothing. Nobody’s saying anything.
We didn’t go there neither. We didn’t go there either.

Using Positive Words Instead of Negative Words

Here are some examples of negative words and the positive words you can use instead.

Negative Word Positive Word
no one anyone, everyone
nowhere anywhere, everywhere
nothing anything, everything
none all; any
neither either
nobody somebody, everybody

Now you know what double negatives in English are and some ways of avoiding double negatives. These points will help you communicate more clearly!

Double Negatives – Summary

Double negatives in English are when we use two negative words, like not, no, or none in a sentence. When we do that, it actually means the opposite of what we want to say! It can be confusing. For example, if we say, "She doesn't like no dogs," it really means "She likes dogs”! To make it clear, we can use positive words like any, anywhere or anything. For example, instead of saying, "She doesn't like no dogs," we can say, "She doesn’t like any dogs” or just “She doesn’t like dogs.” That way, people can better understand our meaning. You can find interactive exercises and downloadable worksheets to help you learn to identify and correct double negatives right after watching the video.

Transcript Double Negatives

"Today looks beautiful! There isn't going to be no rain! So get out there and enjoy!" Uh-oh! Pip appears to be sending mixed messages about the weather! If he wants to make sure he's communicating properly, Pip needs to learn about... Double Negatives. Double negatives are sentences that contain two negative words in one thought. Negative nouns are words such as no one, nobody, nothing, and nowhere. Negative verbs include does not, was not, can’t, isn’t, and shouldn’t. And negative adverbs include words like no, not, never, and rarely. When two negative words are combined in a sentence, they cancel each other out and lead to a weakened positive statement. As a result, the sentence is grammatically incorrect and difficult to understand. Double negatives make your meaning unclear because they send the opposite message than you intended. For example, "I don't want nothing." actually means you want something. Look at the statement made by Pip. He said, "There isn't going to be NO rain." while trying to convey that the weather will be sunny. The words "isn't" and "no" contradict each other therefore forming a positive statement. If there isn't going to be NO RAIN happening, we're actually saying that it is going to rain. There are ways to correct double negatives. We could change the second negative word to a positive word. Positive words include any, anything, always, some, something, and ever. There isn't going to be NO rain would become "There isn't going to be ANY rain." Or, we can remove a negative word, like 'no' ... and the sentence would say, 'there isn't going to be rain.' Let's practice with some examples. Which sentences are written correctly? (...) The correct sentences are "I have no homework to do." and " I don't have any homework to do." These statements only have one negative, so they communicate that there isn't homework. In the sentence, "I don't have no homework to do." there is a "don't" and a "no." This communicates that you actually have homework to be done! Which of these sentences are written correctly? (...) The correct sentences are "We saw nobody at the movies" and "We didn't see anybody at the movies." Sometimes, we have to change the tense of a word when correcting double negatives in sentences, like SEE to SAW. While Pip wraps up the weather report, let's review. Remember, when two negative words are combined in a sentence, they cancel each other out and lead to a weakened positive statement. As a result, the sentence is grammatically incorrect and difficult to understand. We should avoid using double negatives in our sentences in order to communicate clearly with others. "I thought you said it wasn't going to rain today."

2 comments
2 comments
  1. poor pip:(

    From Clarence Noah Williams, 3 months ago
  2. so sad

    From Abu, 8 months ago

Double Negatives exercise

Would you like to apply the knowledge you’ve learned? You can review and practice it with the tasks for the video Double Negatives .
  • Are these words positive or negative words?

    Hints

    Negative words negate something. They help show that the opposite of something is true.

    In the sentence, "He does not like his new t-shirt." the word not is negative.

    With the word not in the sentence, the sentence means he dislikes his new t-shirt.

    Positive words help show something is true.

    For example, in the sentence, "She has some apples." the word some is a positive word.

    It shows she has more than one apple.

    This problem has 4 negative words and 4 positive words.

    In the sentence, "I can't see any clouds in the sky." can't is a negative word and any is a positive word.

    Solution

    Always, any, ever and something are positive words They help show something is true.

    Nobody, rarely, never and can't are negative words. They help show the opposite of something is true.

  • Can you find the pairs of double negatives?

    Hints

    Isn't and nothing are examples of negative words. Negative words show that the opposite of something is true.

    What negative words can you find in each sentence?

    Double negatives are sentences that contain two negative words in one thought.

    In the sentence above, the words don't and no make a double negative.

    Solution

    Each of these sentences contains two negative words that form a double negative.

    Sentences with double negatives are grammatically incorrect and difficult to understand.

  • Can you find the corrected versions of each sentence?

    Hints

    There are ways to correct double negatives.

    1) We can change the second negative to a positive word. Examples of positive words are: any, anything, always, some, something, and ever.

    2) We can remove a negative word from the sentence.

    Read each sentence on the right.

    Does the sentence have one negative word or one negative and one positive word?

    If so, it is probably grammatically correct.

    Solution

    Here are the corrected sentences:

    • I don't want to eat no more cookies. = I don't want to eat more cookies.
    • The dog does not bark at nobody. = The dog does not bark at anybody.
    • I can't find my toy nowhere in my room. = I can't find my toy anywhere in my room.
    • She doesn't have no money with her. = She doesn't have money with her.

    There are ways to correct double negatives.

    You can change the second negative to a positive word or you can remove a negative word from the sentence.

  • Which words should be removed?

    Hints

    The first sentence has two negative words: shouldn't and nowhere.

    You can correct sentences with double negatives by removing one negative word from the sentence.

    For example, you can correct the first sentence by removing the word nowhere.

    The correct sentence is "Today we shouldn't see rain clouds in the sky."

    There are four words to highlight.

    Solution

    The four words that should be highlighted are: nowhere, no, not and no.

    You can correct a sentence with double negatives by removing a negative word from the sentence.

    Here is the corrected paragraph: Today we shouldn't see rain clouds in the sky. It's going to be a dry day! The sun won't be hiding behind clouds. No one should stay inside all day. Enjoy the day and don't worry about rain!

  • Which sentences are written correctly?

    Hints

    Can you find any sentences with double negatives?

    These sentences are grammatically incorrect.

    There are ways to correct double negatives.

    1) We can remove a negative word from the sentence.

    2) We can change the second negative to a positive word. Examples of positive words are any, anything, always, some, something, and ever.

    There are two correct answer choices.

    Solution

    The two correctly written sentences are:

    • He won't eat his vegetables.
    • He won't ever eat his vegetables.
    These statements are grammatically correct because they have one negative word or one negative word and one positive word.

  • Can you complete the sentences?

    Hints

    Each sentence already contains one negative word.

    If a sentence has two negative words it is grammatically incorrect.

    Are the words in the word bank negative or positive?

    An example of a negative word is never.

    An example of a positive word is always.

    Solution

    The sentences are:

    1) She doesn't know anything about the party.

    2) I can't find my pencil anywhere.

    3) He won't tell anyone his secret.

    4) There isn't going to be any snow.

    Each statement has one negative word and one positive word in it.