The double negative

We’re living in a world that can easily give rise to negativity but being doubly negative is something we should really try to avoid! … Well, at least in English grammar.

What is a double negative? It’s when you find two negative parts in a sentence (where one is enough).

For example, ‘She didn’t know nothing before she went to university.’ In this sentence the verb is already in the negative – didn’t know – and is followed by another negative – nothing. So how could we change this sentence to make it correct? Try changing one or other of the parts:

  • She knew nothing before she went to university.
  • She didn’t know anything before she went to university.

Other words like nothing to watch out for are not, hardly, barely and scarcely :

  • ‘Not all my friends don’t have cars’ would be better as ‘not all my friends have cars’.
  • ‘They hardly ate nothing would’ be better as ‘they hardly at anything’.
  • ‘She couldn’t barely stand up’ would be better as ‘she could barely stand up’.
  • ‘She wouldn’t scarcely give me the time of day’ would be better as ‘she would scarcely give me the time of day’.

Some of these may look pretty obvious but you’d be amazed how often I am confronted with the double negative coming from both native and non-native English speaking members of