Double negatives: why they ain’t nothing to worry about
As you can tell from the smartass title, double negatives are something to worry about (and if you didn’t get the joke, you’ll definitely need to read on). Especially since they’re pretty normal in some dialects. That means they’re contagious and people are going to pick them up and start using them willy-nilly like they’re no biggie.
Get out your pen, and let me school you briefly…
What’s a double negative?
A double negative is a whoopsie that happens when you use two negative forms to communicate just one negative idea in one clause.
There are two distinct recipes for a double negative cocktail:
- A verb negation and a modifier negation
- A verb negation and an object negation
Thems were some pretty hardcore words, so lemme explain…
A verb negation is when you add a negation to a verb (a doing word). Negations are negative words like ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘not’ etc:
I can’t pop a cap in his ass.
‘Pop’ is a verb, because it’s something you do. ‘Can’t’ is a negation. You have just used a verb negation in a clause. Well bloody done, you.
A modifier negation is a negative form of a noun (a naming word)—’nothing’, ‘nowhere’. They are nouns in their own right, but they’re the negative forms of other nouns, like ‘something’ and ‘somewhere’.
Looking for a clever example? I got nothing.
An object negation is a negation that appears in conjunction with an object or a noun.
I didn’t punch no dudes.
‘Dudes’ is the noun, ‘punch’ is the verb and ‘no’ is your object negation. Bosh.
Why is it wrong to use a double negative?
When you use a double negative in writing or speech, you run the risk of confusing people and sounding like a moron, which—depending on the company you keep—is not that chill.
Don’t get me wrong; some languages use double negatives as standard, like Spanish, Russian, Polish and Italian. British English did also widely accept double negatives as correct grammar until the 16th century, when I guess there was some sort of crackdown.
Nowadays, you can really only have one negative form in a clause if you want to get your grammar spot on.
So what’s the beef? If it’s recognised in dialects, then it must be harmless, right? Not if you don’t want to confuse the pants off people.
For example, if you were caught shoplifting, you might tell the security guard:
I ain’t done nothing.
This sentence uses what smartass word people call a ‘verb negation’ (ain’t) and a ‘modifier negation’ (nothing).
Because you stuffed two negative forms into the same statement, you’ve effectively not done what you didn’t do. If you haven’t done nothing, then you must have done something. Geddit?
Yeah, my head hurts, too. I think we can wrap things up for today! If you have any Q’s about double negatives, or want to drop one of your favourite d-negs in the comment box, please go ahead