- In standard English, a double negative is when a sentence contains two negative words to emphasize denial or opposition.
- They make your writing unclear because it forces your reader to figure out the positive meaning of your sentence.
- Correct a double negation by changing one of the negative expressions.
- The one exception to double negatives is if you’re using not in front of a negative adjective.
- ○ It’s not uncommon for people to get confused after reading a double negative.
Double Negatives in a Sentence—What’s the Big Deal?
A double negative is when a sentence contains two negative expressions. They’re only acceptable if you’re singing “I can’t get no satisfaction” by 💿 The Rolling Stones. Other than that, they have no place in formal writing, and we’ll tell you why.
Negative words express opposition to an idea or action, and while the use of one is sufficient, two can cause confusion.
|Negative Particles||Negative Verb Forms|
|No||Doesn’t (does not)|
|Not||Isn’t (is not)|
|Never||Wasn’t (was not)|
|Nowhere||Don’t (do not)|
|Nobody||Shouldn’t (should not)|
|None||Wouldn’t (would not)|
|Neither||Couldn’t (could not)|
If your friend asks you to go to a concert, and you answer with a double negative, he’ll probably be puzzled and end up going without you.
Avoid: I don’t not want to go to the concert with you.
Correct: I do want to go to the concert with you.
Avoid: After meeting Yoko Ono, he didn’t want nothing to do with the band.
Correct: After meeting Yoko Ono, he didn’t want anything to do with the band.
Double negatives make your readers have to stop and think about what you’re trying to convey. So, if you want your writing to be easy to comprehend, avoid using two negative words in one sentence.
Double Negatives Don’t Work, Except When…
In math, a negative multiplied by a negative equals a positive. However, that isn’t always the case in formal writing. Most of the time, double negatives improperly reinforce the negativity.
I don't want no dressing on my salad, please. =
I don’t want any dressing on my salad, please.
Although it’s best to play it safe and avoid double negatives, there is an exception to this rule: when the word not is in front of a negative adjective.
It’s not uncommon for those types of things to happen =
It is common for those types of things to happen.
Well-known musician, Tom Jones, understood this when he sang one of his most famous hits 💿.
It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone.
In informal settings, a double negative can be used to emphasize the positive. For example:
You can’t not go to their party. =
You absolutely must go to their party.
It's important to note that there are several languages, and other English dialects, that consider the use of double negatives grammatically correct.
Remember, when writing in standard American English, two negatives in a sentence make your writing grammatically incorrect and therefore hard to understand. Unless you’re purposely trying to be cryptic (or you’re writing a hit song), it’s best to avoid double negatives while writing.
Because LanguageTool—the free writing assistant and spell checker—reinforces standard American English, it will detect double negatives and offers suggestions on how to fix them. It can also strengthen your writing by providing style suggestions, synonyms, and so much more!