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A double negative is a construction occurring when two forms of grammatical
negation In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, ...
are used in the same sentence. Multiple negation is the more general term referring to the occurrence of more than one negative in a
clause In language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, private a ...
. In some languages, double negatives cancel one another and produce an affirmative; in other languages, doubled negatives intensify the negation. Languages where multiple negatives affirm each other are said to have negative concord or emphatic negation.
Portuguese Portuguese may refer to: * anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Portugal ** Portuguese cuisine, traditional foods ** Portuguese language, a Romance language *** Portuguese dialects, variants of the Portuguese language ** Portug ...

Portuguese
,
Persian Persian may refer to: * People and things from Iran, historically called ''Persia'' in the English language ** Persians, Persian people, the majority ethnic group in Iran, not to be conflated with the Iranian peoples ** Persian language, an Iranian ...
,
French
French
,
Russian Russian refers to anything related to Russia, including: *Russians (русские, ''russkiye''), an ethnic group of the East Slavic peoples, primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries *Rossiyane (россияне), Russian language term ...
,
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,
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

Spanish
,
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language ...
,
Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Italian, regional variants of the ...

Italian
,
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most po ...
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...
are examples of negative-concord languages. This is also true of many vernacular dialects of
modern English Modern English (sometimes New English or NE (ME) as opposed to Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th cen ...

modern English
.
Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...
,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
,
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

German
,
Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () *Dutch language , spoken in Belgium (also referred as ''flemish'') Dutch may also refer to:" Castle * Dutch Castle Places * ...
,
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or ...

Japanese
,
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: * Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland * Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by the Swedish langua ...
and modern
Standard English In an English-speaking country This article is intended to provide details and data regarding the geographical distribution of all English speakers, regardless of the legislative status of the countries where it's spoken. The English language is ...
are examples of languages that do not have negative concord. It is cross-linguistically observed that languages with negative-concord are more common than those without. Languages without negative concord typically have
negative polarityIn linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include pho ...
items that are used in place of additional negatives when another negating word already occurs. Examples are "ever", "anything" and "anyone" in the sentence "I haven't ever owed anything to anyone" (cf. "I haven't never owed nothing to no one" in negative-concord dialects of English, and "" in Portuguese, lit. "Never have I owed nothing to no one", or "" in Italian). Note that negative polarity can be triggered not only by direct negatives such as "not" or "never", but also by words such as "doubt" or "hardly" ("I doubt he has ever owed anything to anyone" or "He has hardly ever owed anything to anyone"). Stylistically, in English, double negatives can sometimes be used for affirmation (e.g. "I'm not feeling not good"), an
understatement Understatement is an expression of lesser strength than what the speaker or writer actually means or than what is normally expected. It is the opposite of embellishment In sewing Sewing is the craft of fastening or attaching objects using ...
of the positive ("I'm feeling good"). The rhetorical term for this is
litotes In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques ...
.


English


Two negatives resolving to a positive

When two negatives are used in one independent clause, in standard English the negatives are understood to cancel one another and produce a weakened affirmative (see the Robert Lowth citation
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
): this is known as
litotes In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques ...
. However, depending on how such a sentence is constructed, in some dialects if a verb or adverb is in between two negatives then the latter negative is assumed to be intensifying the former thus adding weight or feeling to the negative clause of the sentence. For this reason, it is difficult to portray double negatives in writing as the level of intonation to add weight in one's speech is lost. A double negative intensifier does not necessarily require the prescribed steps, and can easily be ascertained by the mood or intonation of the speaker. Compare * ''There isn't no other way.'' := There's some other way. Negative: isn't (is not), no versus * ''There isn't no other way!'' := There's no other way! These two sentences would be different in how they are communicated by speech. Any assumption would be correct, and the first sentence can be just as right or wrong in intensifying a negative as it is in cancelling it out; thereby rendering the sentence's meaning ambiguous. Since there is no adverb or verb to support the latter negative, the usage here is ambiguous and lies totally on the context behind the sentence. In light of punctuation, the second sentence can be viewed as the intensifier; and the former being a statement thus an admonishment. In
Standard English In an English-speaking country This article is intended to provide details and data regarding the geographical distribution of all English speakers, regardless of the legislative status of the countries where it's spoken. The English language is ...
, two negatives are understood to resolve to a positive. This rule was observed as early as 1762, when Bishop
Robert Lowth Robert Lowth ( ; 27 November 1710 – 3 November 1787) was a Bishop of the Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is a Christian church Christian Church is a Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originate ...
wrote ''A Short Introduction to English Grammar with Critical Notes''. For instance, "I don't disagree" could mean "I certainly agree", "I agree", "I sort of agree", "I don't understand your point of view (POV)", "I have no opinion", and so on; it is a form of "
weasel word A weasel word, or anonymous authority, is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. Examples in ...
s". Further statements are necessary to resolve which particular meaning was intended. This is opposed to the single negative "I don't agree", which typically means "I disagree". However, the statement "I don't completely disagree" is a similar double negative to "I don't disagree" but needs little or no clarification. With the meaning "I completely agree", Lowth would have been referring to
litotes In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques ...
wherein two negatives simply cancel each other out. However, the usage of intensifying negatives and examples are presented in his work, which could also imply he wanted either usage of double negatives abolished. Because of this ambiguity, double negatives are frequently employed when making back-handed compliments. The phrase "Mr. Jones wasn't incompetent." will seldom mean "Mr. Jones was very competent" since the speaker would've found a more flattering way to say so. Instead, some kind of problem is implied, though Mr. Jones possesses basic competence at his tasks.


Two or more negatives resolving to a negative

Discussing English grammar, the term "double negative" is often, though not universally, applied to the non-standard use of a second negative as an intensifier to a negation. Double negatives are usually associated with regional and ethnical dialects such as
Southern American English Southern may refer to: Businesses * China Southern Airlines China Southern Airlines Company Limited is an airline headquartered in , , Province. Established on 1 July 1988 following the restructuring of the that acquired and merged a numb ...

Southern American English
,
African American Vernacular English African-American Vernacular English (AAVE, ), also referred to as Black Vernacular, Black English Vernacular (BEV), Black Vernacular English (BVE), occasionally as Ebonics (a colloquial, controversial Controversy is a state of prolonged public ...
, and various British regional dialects. Indeed, they were used in
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured sys ...
. Historically,
Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Chaucer
made extensive use of double, triple, and even quadruple negatives in his ''
Canterbury Tales ''The Canterbury Tales'' ( enm, Tales of Caunterbury) is a collection of 24 stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400. It is near-unanimously seen as Chaucer's ''Masterpiece, mag ...

Canterbury Tales
''. About the Friar, he writes "" ("There never was no man nowhere so virtuous"). About the Knight, "" ("He never yet no vileness didn't say / In all his life to no manner of man"). Following the
battle of Marston Moor The Battle of Marston Moor was fought on 2 July 1644, during the First English Civil War The First English Civil War was fought in and , from August 1642 to June 1646. It forms one of the conflicts known collectively as the 1638 t ...
,
Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell (25 April 15993 September 1658) was an English general and statesman who, first as a subordinate and later as Commander-in-Chief, led armies An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" e ...

Oliver Cromwell
quoted his nephew's dying words in a letter to the boy's father
Valentine Walton Valentine Walton (c. 1594–1661) was an English politician, a member of the Roundhead, Parliamentarian faction in the English Civil War, and one of the regicides of King Charles I of England. Biography Walton came from an ancient and knightly fa ...
: "A little after, he said one thing lay upon his spirit. I asked him what it was. He told me it was that God had not suffered him to be no more the executioner of His enemies." Although this particular letter has often been reprinted, it is frequently changed to read "not ... to be any more" instead. Whereas some double negatives may resolve to a positive, in some dialects others resolve to intensify the negative clause within a sentence. For example: * ''I didn't go nowhere today.'' * ''I'm not hungry no more.'' * ''You don't know nothing.'' * ''There was never no more laziness at work than before.'' In contrast, some double negatives become positives: * ''I didn't not go to the park today. * ''We can't not go to sleep! * ''This is something you can't not watch.'' The key to understanding the former examples and knowing whether a double negative is intensive or negative is finding a verb between the two negatives. If a verb is present between the two, the latter negative becomes an intensifier which does not negate the former. In the first example, the verb ''to go'' separates the two negatives; therefore the latter negative does not negate the already negated verb. Indeed, the word 'nowhere' is thus being used as an
adverb An adverb is a word or an expression that modifies a verb A verb () is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being ...

adverb
and does not negate the argument of the sentence. Double negatives such as ''I don't want to know no more'' contrast with Romance languages such as French in ''Je ne veux pas savoir.'' An exception is when the second negative is stressed, as in ''I'm not doing ; I'm thinking.'' A sentence can otherwise usually only become positive through consecutive uses of negatives, such as those prescribed in the later examples, where a clause is void of a verb and lacks an adverb to intensify it. Two of them also use emphasis to make the meaning clearer. The last example is a popular example of a double negative that resolves to a positive. This is because the verb 'to doubt' has no intensifier which effectively resolves a sentence to a positive. Had we added an adverb thus: * ''I have no doubt never this sentence is false.'' Then what happens is that the verb ''to doubt'' becomes intensified, which indeed deduces that the sentence is indeed false since nothing was resolved to a positive. The same applies to the third example, where the adverb 'more' merges with the prefix ''no-'' to become a negative word, which when combined with the sentence's former negative only acts as an intensifier to the verb ''hungry''. Where people think that the sentence ''I'm not hungry no more'' resolves to a positive is where the latter negative ''no'' becomes an adjective which only describes its suffix counterpart ''more'' which effectively becomes a noun, instead of an adverb. This is a valid argument since adjectives do indeed describe the nature of a noun; yet some fail to take into account that the phrase ''no more'' is only an adverb and simply serves as an intensifier. Another argument used to support the position double negatives aren't acceptable is a mathematical analogy: negating a negative number results in a positive one; e.g., ; therefore, it is argued, ''I did not go nowhere'' resolves to ''I went somewhere''. Other forms of double negatives, which are popular to this day and do strictly enhance the negative rather than destroying it, are described thus: :''I'm not entirely familiar with
Nihilism Nihilism (; ) is a philosophy, or family of views within philosophy, expressing some form of towards life or towards fundamental concepts such as knowledge, existence, and the meaning of life. Different nihilist positions hold variously th ...
nor
Existentialism Existentialism ( ) is a form of philosophy, philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centres on the experience of thinking, feeling, and acting. In the view of the existentialist, the individual's starting point ha ...
.'' Philosophies aside, this form of double negative is still in use whereby the use of 'nor' enhances the negative clause by emphasizing what isn't to be. Opponents of double negatives would have preferred ''I'm not entirely familiar with
Nihilism Nihilism (; ) is a philosophy, or family of views within philosophy, expressing some form of towards life or towards fundamental concepts such as knowledge, existence, and the meaning of life. Different nihilist positions hold variously th ...
or
Existentialism Existentialism ( ) is a form of philosophy, philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centres on the experience of thinking, feeling, and acting. In the view of the existentialist, the individual's starting point ha ...
''; however this renders the sentence somewhat empty of the negative clause being advanced in the sentence. This form of double negative along with others described are standard ways of intensifying as well as enhancing a negative. The use of 'nor' to emphasise the negative clause is still popular today, and has been popular in the past through the works of Shakespeare and Milton: :''Nor did they not perceive the evil plight'' :''In which they were'' ~
John Milton John Milton (9 December 16088 November 1674) was an English poet and intellectual who served as a civil servant for the under its Council of State and later under . He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best kno ...

John Milton
-
Paradise Lost ''Paradise Lost'' is an in by the 17th-century English poet (1608–1674). The first version, published in 1667, consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of . A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the m ...

Paradise Lost
:''I never was, nor never will be'' ~
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...

William Shakespeare
-
Richard III Richard III (2 October 145222 August 1485) was King of England This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England begins with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Kingdom of Wessex, Wessex, one of the heptarchy, seven Anglo-Saxon ...

Richard III
The negatives herein do not cancel each other out but simply emphasize the negative clause. Up to the 18th century, double negatives were used to emphasize negation. "Prescriptive grammarians" recorded and codified a shift away from the double negative in the 1700s. Double negatives continue to be spoken by those of Vernacular English, such as those of Appalachian English and African American Vernacular English. To such speakers, they view double negatives as emphasizing the negative rather than cancelling out the negatives. Researchers have studied African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and trace its origins back to colonial English. This shows that double negatives were present in colonial English, and thus presumably English as a whole, and were acceptable at that time. English after the 18th century was changed to become more logical and double negatives became seen as canceling each other as in mathematics. The use of double negatives became associated with being uneducated and illogical. In his ''Essay towards a practical English Grammar'' of 1711, James Greenwood first recorded the rule: "Two Negatives, or two Adverbs of Denying do in English affirm".
Robert Lowth Robert Lowth ( ; 27 November 1710 – 3 November 1787) was a Bishop of the Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is a Christian church Christian Church is a Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originate ...
stated in his grammar textbook ''A Short Introduction to English Grammar'' (1762) that "two negatives in English destroy one another, or are equivalent to an affirmative". Grammarians have assumed that Latin was the model for Lowth and other early grammarians in prescribing against negative concord, as Latin does not feature it. Data indicates, however, that negative concord had already fallen into disuse in Standard English by the time of Lowth's grammar, and no evidence exists that the loss was driven by prescriptivism, which was well established by the time it appeared.


In film and TV

Double negatives have been employed in various films and television shows. In the film ''
Mary Poppins ''Mary Poppins'' is a fantasy media franchise created by P. L. Travers, originating with the ''Mary Poppins (book series), Mary Poppins'' series of children's books. Books * ''Mary Poppins'' (1934) * ''Mary Poppins Comes Back'' (1935) * ''Mary Po ...
'' (1964), the
chimney sweep A chimney sweep is a person who clears ash Ash or ashes are the solid remnants of fire BBQ. Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Produ ...
Bert employs a double negative when he says, "If you don't wanna go nowhere..." Another is used by the bandits in the " Stinking Badges" scene of
John Huston John Marcellus Huston ( ; August 5, 1906 – August 28, 1987) was an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and visual artist. He travelled widely, settling at various times in France, Mexico, and Ireland. Huston was a citizen of th ...
's '' The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' (1948): "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges!." ''The Simpsons'' episode "
Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" is the sixth episode of the The Simpsons (season 11), eleventh season of the American animated sitcom ''The Simpsons''. It originally aired on the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox network in the United States on November 1 ...
" (1999) features Bart writing "I won't not use no double negatives" (pictured) as part of the opening sequence chalkboard gag. More recently, the British television show ''
EastEnders ''EastEnders'' is a British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and ...

EastEnders
'' has received some publicity over the
Estuary An estuary is a partially enclosed Coast, coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime envir ...
accent of character
Dot Branning Dorothy "Dot" Branning (also Cotton) is a fictional character In fiction Fiction is any creative workA creative work is a manifestation of creative effort including fine artwork (sculpture Sculpture is the branch of the visual ...
, who speaks with double and triple negatives ("I ain't never heard of no licence.").. In the
Harry Enfield Henry Richard Enfield (born 30 May 1961) is an English comedian, actor, writer, and director. He is known in particular for his television work, including '' Harry Enfield's Television Programme'' and '' Harry & Paul'', and for the creation and ...
sketch "Mr Cholmondley-Warner's Guide to the Working-Class", a stereotypical Cockney employs a septuple-negative: "Inside toilet? I ain't never not heard of one of them nor I ain't nor nothing." In music, double negatives can be employed to similar effect (as in
Pink Floyd Pink Floyd were an English rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical compo ...
's "
Another Brick in the Wall "Another Brick in the Wall" is a three-part composition on Pink Floyd Pink Floyd were an English rock band formed in London in 1965. Gaining an early following as one of the first British psychedelic groups, they were distinguished fo ...
", in which schoolchildren chant "We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control") or used to establish a frank and informal tone (as in
The Rolling Stones The Rolling Stones are an English band formed in London in 1962. Active for almost six decades, they are one of the most popular and enduring bands of the rock era. In the early 1960s, the Rolling Stones pioneered the gritty, heavier-drive ...

The Rolling Stones
' "
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" is a song recorded by the English rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the mine ...
"). Other examples include Never Say Never (
Chaka Khan Yvette Marie Stevens (born March 23, 1953), better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, is an American musician, singer and songwriter. Her career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the funk band Rufus ( ...

Chaka Khan
)
Ain't Nobody "Ain't Nobody" is a song by American funk band Rufus (band), Rufus and American singer Chaka Khan. It was released on November 4, 1983, as one of four studio tracks included on their live album, live album ''Stompin' at the Savoy – Live, Stom ...
(
Bill Withers William Harrison "Bill" Withers Jr. (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. He had several hits over a relatively short career of fifteen years, including "Ain't No Sunshine "Ain't No Sunshine" is a s ...
),
Ain't No Sunshine "Ain't No Sunshine" is a song by Bill Withers William Harrison "Bill" Withers Jr. (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. He had several hits over a relatively short career of fifteen years, including ...
(
Marvin Gaye Marvin Gaye (born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr.; April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an American singer and songwriter. He helped to shape the sound of Motown Motown Records is an American record label owned by the Universal Music Group Univ ...

Marvin Gaye
), and
Ain't No Mountain High Enough "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is a pop/ soul song written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson in 1966 for the Tamla label, a division of Motown. The composition was first successful as a 1967 hit single recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Ter ...


Germanic languages

Double negation is uncommon in other
West Germanic languages The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic Germanic may refer to: * Germanic peoples, an ethno-linguistic group identified by their use of the Germanic languages ** List of ancient Germanic peoples ...
. A notable exception is
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most po ...
, where it is mandatory (for example, "He cannot speak Afrikaans" becomes ''Hy kan nie Afrikaans praat nie'', "He cannot Afrikaans speak not"). Dialectal Dutch, French and have been suggested as possible origins for this trait. Its proper use follows a set of fairly complex rules as in these examples provided by Bruce Donaldson: * ("I did not know that he would be coming.") * ("I knew that he would not be coming.") * ("He will not be coming because he is sick.") * ("It is not so difficult to learn Afrikaans.") Another point of view is that this construction is not really an example of a "double negative" but simply a grammatical template for negation. The second cannot be understood as a noun or adverb (as can, e.g., in French), and cannot be substituted by any part of speech other than itself with the sentence remaining grammatical. It is a grammatical particle with no independent meaning that happens to be spelled and pronounced the same as the embedded , meaning "not", through historical accident. The second is used if and only if the sentence or phrase does not already end with or another negating adverb. * ("I don't see you") * ("I never see you") Afrikaans shares with English the property that two negatives make a positive. For example, * ("I don't agree with you." ) * ("I don't ''not'' agree with you," i.e., I agree with you.) While double negation is still found in the Low Franconian dialects of west
Flanders Flanders (, ; Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () *Dutch language , spoken in Belgium (also referred as ''flemish'') Dutch may also refer to:" Castle * ...

Flanders
(e.g., , "I do not want to do that") and in some villages in the central Netherlands such as
Garderen Garderen is a village in the Netherlands, Dutch province of Gelderland. It is located in the municipality of Barneveld (municipality), Barneveld, in the forests of the Veluwe. The village has 1,994 inhabitants (as of 1 January 2008). Garderen was ...
, it takes a different form than that found in Afrikaans. In
Belgian Dutch Flemish (''Vlaams'') is a Low Franconian Low Franconian, Low Frankish, NetherlandicSarah Grey Thomason, Terrence Kaufman: ''Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics'', University of California Press, 1991, p. 321. (Calling i ...
dialects, however, there are still some widely used expressions like ("never not") for "never". Similar to some dialectal English, Bavarian employs both single and double negation, with the latter denoting special emphasis. For example, compare the Bavarian ("This have I yet never not heard") with the standard German "". The German emphatic "" (roughly "never ever") corresponds to Bavarian "" or even "" in Standard German pronunciation. Another exception is
Yiddish Yiddish (, or , ''yidish'' or ''idish'', , ; , ''Yidish-Taytsh'', ) is a West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic languages, Germanic family of languages (the others being the ...

Yiddish
. Due to influence, the double (and sometimes even triple) negative is quite common. A few examples would be: * ("I never didn't say") * ("I have no fear of no one not") * It is common to add ("not") after the Yiddish word ("nothing"), i.e. ("I haven't said nothing")


Latin and Romance languages

In Latin a second negative word appearing along with turns the meaning into a positive one: means "any", means "no", () means "some". In the same way, means "ever", means "never", () means "sometimes". In many Romance languages a second term indicating a negative is required.
In French IN, In or in may refer to: Places * India (country code IN) * Indiana, United States (postal code IN) * Ingolstadt, Germany (license plate code IN) Businesses and organizations * Independent Network, a UK-based political association * Indiana ...

In French
, the usual way to express simple negation is to employ two words, e.g. '' '', '' '', or '' '', as in the sentences , , and . The second term was originally an emphatic; , for example, derives from the Latin , meaning "step", so that French and Catalan originally meant "I will not walk a single step." This initial usage spread so thoroughly that it became a necessary element of any negation in the modern French language to such a degree that is generally dropped entirely, as in . In
Northern Catalan Northern Catalan ( ca, català septentrional, , also known as ''rossellonès'') is a Catalan dialect The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , , "discourse", from , , "through" and , , "I speak") is used in two distinct w ...
, may be omitted in colloquial language, and
Occitan Occitan (; oc, occitan, link=no ,), also known as ''lenga d'òc'' (; french: langue d'oc) by its native speakers, is a Romance language The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evol ...
, which uses only as a short answer to questions. In Venetian, the double negation can likewise lose the first particle and rely only on the second: ("I eat not") and ("I come not"). These exemplify
Jespersen's cycle Jespersen's Cycle (JC) is a series of processes in historical linguistics, which describe the historical development of the expression of negation (linguistics), negation in a variety of languages, from a simple pre-verbal marker of negation, throug ...

Jespersen's cycle
. , , and (never, nothing, no one, nowhere) can be mixed with each other, and/or with (not anymore/not again) in French, e.g. to form sentences like (I didn't say anything to anyone) or even (He never says anything to anyone anymore). The
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

Spanish
,
Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Italian, regional variants of the ...

Italian
,
Portuguese Portuguese may refer to: * anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Portugal ** Portuguese cuisine, traditional foods ** Portuguese language, a Romance language *** Portuguese dialects, variants of the Portuguese language ** Portug ...

Portuguese
and
Romanian Romanian may refer to: *anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Romania **Romanians, an ethnic group **Romanian language, a Romance language ***Romanian dialects, variants of the Romanian language **Romanian cuisine, traditional ...
languages usually employ doubled negative
correlativeIn grammar In linguistics, the grammar (from Ancient Greek ''grammatikḗ'') of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The ter ...
s. Portuguese , Spanish , Romanian and Italian (literally, "I do not see nothing") are used to express "I do not see anything". In Italian, a second following negative particle turns the phrase into a positive one, but with a slightly different meaning. For instance, while both ("I want to eat") and ("I don't want not to eat") mean "I want to eat", the latter phrase more precisely means "I'd prefer to eat". Other Romance languages employ double negatives less regularly. In Asturian, an extra negative particle is used with negative adverbs: ("I had not never seen him") means "I have never seen him" and ("I neither do not like it") means "I do not like it either". Standard Catalan and
GalicianGalician may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Galicia (Spain) ** Galician language ** Galician people ** Gallaeci, a large Celtic tribal federation who inhabited Gallaecia (currently Galicia (Spain) * Something of, from, or related to ...
also used to possess a tendency to double ''no'' with other negatives, so or , respectively meant "I have not seen her either". This practice is dying out.


Welsh

In spoken
Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indigenous to the British Isles, spoken in Wales ** Patagonian Welsh, a dialect of Wels ...
, the word (not) often occurs with a prefixed or mutated verb form that is negative in meaning: (word-for-word, "Not-is she not here") expresses "She is not here" and (word-for-word, "Not-will-get Aled not go") expresses "Aled is not allowed to go". Negative correlatives can also occur with already negative verb forms. In literary Welsh, the mutated verb form is caused by an initial negative particle, or . The particle is usually omitted in speech but the mutation remains: (word-for-word, "not-knew nobody") means "Nobody knew" and (word-for-word, "not-will-get Aled lots of money") means "Aled will not get much money". This is not usually regarded as three negative markers, however, because the negative mutation is really just an effect of the initial particle on the following word.


Greek


Ancient Greek

Doubled negatives are perfectly correct in
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
. With few exceptions, a simple negative (οὐ or μή) following another negative (for example, , ''no one'') results in an affirmation: ("No one was not suffering") means more simply "Everyone was suffering". Meanwhile, a compound negative following a negative strengthens the negation: ("Do not permit no one to raise an uproar") means "Let not a single one among them raise an uproar". Those constructions apply only when the negatives all refer to the same word or expression. Otherwise, the negatives simply work independently of one another: means "It was not on account of their not throwing that they did not hit him", and one should not blame them for not trying.


Modern Greek

In
Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the dialect The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' ...
, a double negative can express either an affirmation or a negation, depending on the word combination. When expressing negation, it usually carries an emphasis with it. Native speakers can usually understand the sentence meaning from the voice tone and the context. ''Examples'' A combination of and has an affirmative meaning: "" translates "Without that meaning that we can't find it." i.e. We can find it. A combination of and also has an affirmative meaning: "" translates "Doesn't mean that we can't find it." i.e. We can find it. A combination of and has a negative meaning: "" translates "You won't get any book."


Slavic languages

In
Slavic languages The Slavic languages, also known as the Slavonic languages, are Indo-European languages spoken primarily by the Slavs, Slavic peoples or their descendants. They are thought to descend from a proto-language called Proto-Slavic language, Proto- ...

Slavic languages
, multiple negatives affirm each other. Indeed, if a sentence contains a negated verb, any indefinite pronouns or adverbs must be used in their negative forms. For example, in the
Serbo-Croatian Serbo-Croatian () – also called Serbo-Croat (), Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), and Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS) – is a South Slavic language The South Slavic languages are one of three branche ...
, ("Nobody never did not do nothing nowhere") means "Nobody has ever done anything, anywhere", and ("Never I did not go there") means "I have never been there". In Czech, it is ("I have not seen never no-one nowhere"). In Bulgarian, it is: [], lit. "I have not seen never no-one nowhere", or (''), lit. "I don't know nothing". In Russian, "I know nothing" is [], lit. "I don't know nothing". Negating the verb without negating the pronoun (or vice versa), while syntactically correct, may result in a very unusual meaning or make no sense at all. Saying "I saw nobody" in
Polish Polish may refer to: * Anything from or related to Poland Poland ( pl, Polska ), officially the Republic of Poland ( pl, Rzeczpospolita Polska, links=no ), is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 Voivodeships of Pol ...
() instead of the more usual "I did not see nobody" () might mean "I saw an instance of nobody" or "I saw Mr Nobody" but it would not have its plain English meaning. Likewise, in
Slovenian Slovene or Slovenian may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Slovenia, a country in Central Europe * Slovene language, a South Slavic language mainly spoken in Slovenia * Slovenes, an ethno-linguistic group mainly living in Slovenia * Sla ...
, saying "I do not know anyone" () in place of "I do not know no one" () has the connotation "I do not know just ''anyone''": I know someone important or special. In
Czech Czech may refer to: * Anything from or related to the Czech Republic The Czech Republic, also known by its short-form name Czechia and formerly known as Bohemia, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A countr ...
, like in many other languages, a standard double negative is used in sentences with a negative pronoun or negative conjunction, where the verb is also negated ( "nobody came", literally "nobody didn't come"). However, this doubleness is also transferred to forms where the verbal copula is released and the negation is joined to the nominal form, and such a phrase can be ambiguous: ("nobody unscathed") can mean both "nobody healthy" and "all healthy". Similarly, ("nobody absent") or ("three tasks were planned, none uncompleted"). The sentence, ("all don't were there") means not "all absented" but "there were not all" (= "at least one of them absenteed"). If all absented, it should be said ("nobody weren't there"). However, in many cases, a double, triple quadruple negative can really work in such a way that each negative cancels out the next negative, and such a sentence may be a catch and may be incomprehensible to a less attentive or less intelligent addressee. E.g. the sentence, ("I can't never not indulge in inaction") contains 4 negations and it is very confusing which of them create a "double negative" and which of them eliminated from each other. Such confusing sentences can then diplomatically soften or blur rejection or unpleasant information or even agreement, but at the expense of intelligibility: ("it can't be not seen"), ("I'm not dissatisfied"), ("it/he is not uninteresting"), ("I can't disagree").


Baltic languages

As with most
syntheticA synthetic is an artificial material produced by organic chemistry, organic chemical synthesis. Synthetic may also refer to: In the sense of both "combination" and "artificial" * Synthetic chemical or synthetic compress, produced by the process ...
''
satem Languages of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European family are classified as either centum languages or satem languages according to how the dorsal consonants (sounds of "K" and "G" type) of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (P ...
'' languages double negative is mandatory in Latvian and
Lithuanian Lithuanian may refer to: * Lithuanians Lithuanians ( lt, lietuviai, singular ''lietuvis/lietuvė'') are a Balts, Baltic ethnic group. They are native to Lithuania, where they number around 2,561,300 people. Another million or more make up the Lith ...
. Furthermore, all verbs and
indefinite pronoun An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, si ...
s in a given statement must be negated, so it could be said that multiple negative is mandatory in Latvian. For instance, a statement "I have not ever owed anything to anyone" would be rendered as . The only alternative would be using a negating
subordinate clause A hierarchy (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approx ...
and
subjunctive The subjunctive is a grammatical mood In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, ...
in the
main clause An independent clause (or main clause) is a clause In language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to t ...
, which could be approximated in English as "there has not ever been an instance that I would have owed anything to anyone" (), where negative pronouns () are replaced by
indefinite pronoun An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, si ...
s () more in line with the English "ever, any" indefinite pronoun structures.


Uralic languages

Double or multiple negatives are grammatically required in
HungarianHungarian may refer to: * Hungary, a country in Central Europe * Kingdom of Hungary, state of Hungary, existing between 1000 and 1946 * Hungarians, ethnic groups in Hungary * Hungarian algorithm, a polynomial time algorithm for solving the assignmen ...
with negative pronouns: (word for word: " oesn't-exists othing-of-mine, and translates literally as "I do not have nothing") means "I do not have anything". Negative pronouns are constructed by means of adding the prefixes ''se-,'' ''sem-,'' and ''sen-'' to interrogative pronouns. Something superficially resembling double negation is required also in Finnish language, Finnish, which uses the auxiliary verb to express negation. Negative pronouns are constructed by adding one of the suffixes ''-an,'' ''-än,'' ''-kaan,'' or ''-kään'' to interrogative pronouns: means "No one called me". These suffixes are, however, never used alone, but always in connection with . This phenomenon is commonplace in Finnish, where many words have alternatives that are required in negative expressions, for example for ("even"), as in meaning "even so much", and meaning "not even so much".


Turkish

Negative verb forms are grammatically required in Turkish grammar, Turkish phrases with negative pronouns or adverbs that impart a negative meaning on the whole phrase. For example, (literally, word for word, "Not-one thing-of-mine exists-not") means "I don't have anything". Likewise, (literally, "Never satisfied not-I-am") means "I'm never satisfied".


Japanese

Japanese employs
litotes In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques ...
to phrase ideas in a more indirect and polite manner. Thus, one can indicate necessity by emphasizing that not doing something would not be proper. For instance, (', "must", more literally "if not done, [can] not be") means "not doing [it] wouldn't be proper". (', also "must", "if not done, can not go') similarly means "not doing [it] can't go forward". Of course, indirectness can also be employed to put an edge on one's rudeness as well. Whilst "He has studied Japanese, so he should be able to write kanji" can be phrased ('), there is a harsher idea in it: "As he's studied Japanese, the reasoning that he can't write Kanji doesn't exist".


Chinese

Mandarin Chinese also employs
litotes In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques ...
in a like manner. One common construction is (Hanyu Pinyin, Pinyin: ', "cannot not"), which is used to express (or feign) a necessity more regretful and polite than that expressed by (', "must"). Compared with "" (', "I must go"), "" (', "I cannot not go") tries to emphasize that the situation is out of the speaker's hands and that the speaker has no choice in the matter: "Unfortunately, I have got to go". Similarly, "" (', "There is not a person who does not know") is a more emphatic way to express "Everyone knows". Double negatives nearly always resolve to a positive meaning even in colloquial speech, while triple negatives resolve to a negative meaning. For example, "" (', "I do not think there is not a person who does not know") means "I don't think everyone knows". Quadruple negatives further resolve to a positive meaning; for example, "" (', "I do not not know no one likes him not") means "I do know that everybody likes him". However, more than triple negatives are frequently perceived as obscure and rarely encountered.


Historical development

Many languages, including all living Germanic languages, French, Welsh and some Berber and Arabic dialects, have gone through a process known as
Jespersen's cycle Jespersen's Cycle (JC) is a series of processes in historical linguistics, which describe the historical development of the expression of negation (linguistics), negation in a variety of languages, from a simple pre-verbal marker of negation, throug ...

Jespersen's cycle
, where an original negative particle is replaced by another, passing through an intermediate stage employing two particles (e.g. Old French → Modern Standard French → Modern Colloquial French "I don't say"). In many cases, the original sense of the new negative particle is not negative ''per se'' (thus in French "step", originally "not a step" = "not a bit"). However, in Germanic languages such as English and German, the intermediate stage was a case of double negation, as the current negatives ''not'' and in these languages originally meant "nothing": e.g.
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language ...
"I didn't see" >>
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured sys ...
, lit. "I didn't see nothing" >> Early Modern English ''I saw not''. A similar development to a circumfix from double negation can be seen in non-Indo-European languages, Indo-European languages, too: for example, in Maltese language, Maltese, "he ate" is negated as "he did not eat", where the verb is preceded by a negative particle - "not" and followed by the particle ''-x'', which was originally a shortened form of "nothing" - thus, "he didn't eat nothing".


See also

* Affirmative and negative * Agreement (linguistics) * Idiom *
Jespersen's cycle Jespersen's Cycle (JC) is a series of processes in historical linguistics, which describe the historical development of the expression of negation (linguistics), negation in a variety of languages, from a simple pre-verbal marker of negation, throug ...

Jespersen's cycle
* List of common English usage misconceptions * Litotes * Affirmative and negative, Negation * Pleonasm * Redundancy (linguistics)


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Double Negative Grammar Nonstandard English grammar Semantics (linguistics) Ambiguity