Double negatives are two negative words used in the same sentence. Using two negatives usually turns the thought or sentence into a positive one. Double negatives are generally discouraged in English because they are considered to be poor grammar and they can be confusing. However, they are sometimes used in everyday casual speech and you'll find many examples in popular song lyrics.
To better understand why you should generally try to avoid these sorts of sentence constructions, here are several examples of double negatives that illustrate how they can be confusing or sound nonsensical.
- That won't do you no good.
- I ain't got no time for supper.
- Nobody with any sense isn't going.
- I can't find my keys nowhere.
- She never goes with nobody.
- John says he has not seen neither Alice or Susan all day.
- I didn't steal nothing.
- He ain't never told no lies.
- You can't see no one in this crowd.
- There aren't no presents left to open.
- The secret cave didn't have none of the treasures they wanted.
- All the witnesses claimed that didn't see nothing.
- The pilot can't find no place to land.
- He did not mention neither the deposit nor the rate.
- There is no way you can do nothing about this.
- He doesn't have nothing but the clothes on his back.
- We haven't never seen a tornado that big.
- It ain't right to not paint the house.
- You shouldn't do nothing to the house.
- The hospital won't allow no more visitors.
- I don't have nobody to mow my lawn.
- That attitude won't get you nowhere.
- After the nose job, she didn't want no one to see her.
- The star couldn't sing no more after the matinee performance.
When it comes to sentences with double negatives, you'll most often find the word "not" (sometimes in a conjunction like don't or can't) or the word "no." Sometimes, a negative can also be formed by attaching a prefix like ir-, in-, non- or un-. Here are some examples in sentences:
- The evidence is certainly not irrefutable.
- This gem is not uncommon.
- The results are not inconclusive.
- His rebuttal was clearly not nonsensical.
- The price of the car is not insignificant.
- It is not unnecessary to tell the truth all the time.
- The new disease wasn't non-infectious.
- He wasn't irresponsible about his duties.
You can usually simplify sentences like these by replacing the double negative with a positive, all without losing the meaning. Instead of, "The evidence is certainly not irrefutable," you can say, "The evidence is refutable." Remember that "positive" here refers to stating what something is, whereas "negative" refers to stating what something is not.
You can create a double negative by using a negative word with a word that acts like a negative, such as some adverbs, pronouns or conjunctions. These types of sentences typically involve words with a connotation of being lesser or very low in quantity or degree. Here are some examples of negative adverbs used incorrectly to emphasize the negative of the verb:
- Barely - I can't barely see where I am going in this fog.
- Barely - She did not barely understand the instructions.
- Hardly - I hardly have no money.
- Hardly - It wasn't hardly midnight when we saw the meteor shower.
- Rarely - He is not rarely a visitor at the park.
- Rarely - Tom wasn't rarely present at openings.
- Scarcely - The news of the company's bankruptcy made scarcely no impact.
- Scarcely - The Southeast had scarcely no rain last year.
- Seldom - We don't watch movies seldom.
- Seldom - Tom doesn't go there seldom since his bad experience.
- Simply - That outfit can't simply do for such a formal affair.
- Simply - This workload isn't simply too much for me to handle.
Song lyrics are much like many types of poetry in that they don't have to follow standard grammar rules. The creative breaking of convention allows for a wider range of expression, even if double negatives are used to achieve desired syllable counts in lyrics. Here are some well-known lines in popular songs with double negative examples.
- I can't get no satisfaction - "Satisfaction," The Rolling Stones
- I wasn't looking for nobody when you looked my way - "Don't Stop the Music," Rihanna
- We don't need no education - "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," Pink Floyd
- I can't get no sleep - "Insomnia," Faithless
- Got nothing to hide no more - "Shape of My Heart," Backstreet Boys
- There ain't no rest for the wicked - "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," Cage the Elephant
- And there ain't nothin' in this world for free - "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," Cage the Elephant
- My forbidden lover, I don't want no other - "My Forbidden Lover," Chic
- Ain't no mountain high enough - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
- Never wanted nothing more - "Never Wanted Nothing More," Kenny Chesney
- You can't tell me nothing - "Can't Tell Me Nothing," Kanye West
- I don't belong to no one - "Dream Attack," New Order
- Ain't no sunshine when she's gone - Ain't No Sunshine," Bill Withers
- Ain't no other man on the planet does what you do - "Ain't No Other Man," Christina Aguilera
It wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl - "It's a Man's World," James BrownWon't Do No Good
Unless you're leveraging double negatives for poetic effect, it probably "won't do you no good" to include them in either your formal or informal writing. Instead, you should strive for clarity and understanding. Check out Double Negative Trouble for more on the right and wrong use of double negatives and to test your knowledge in our quick quiz. You "couldn't hardly wait" to see more, right?