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Avoiding English Double Negatives–I Didn’t See Nothing or I Didn’t See Anything

Avoiding English Double Negatives–I Didn’t See Nothing or I Didn’t See Anything

Double negatives are common in many languages, but they are not appropriate in English. A double negative is a sentence that contains a negative verb and a negative word, such as ” I didn’t see nothing.” In this posting a give you examples of many common double negative verbs and words. I also show you how to write or speak the sentence correctly. The download will give you additional practice writing sentences with double negatives correctly.

What are double negatives?

Double negatives are sentences with a negative verb and a negative word or expression. Perhaps your language uses double negatives. Many languages do. In English however, only one negative per sentence is allowed. English is a little like math. In math, -5 x -5 = +25. In English, a double negative changes the meaning of the sentence to the affirmative.

You may have heard native English speakers use double negatives. Many native speakers also make that mistake. At the end of this posting, though, you will understand the correct way to form negative English sentences.

Negative verbs

Here is a list of common negative words: don’t doesn’t, didn’t, am not, aren’t isn’t, wasn’t, weren’t, can’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, won’t

You have used these verbs many times.

I don’t know where my book is.

He wasn’t at work today.

Negative words

Here is a list of some common negative words: no, not, none, no one, nothing, nowhere, nobody, neither, never

You have also used these words many times.

Nobody called in sick today.

I don’t like potatoes.

Some additional negative words

You may also know the words barely, hardly, and scarcely. You will see example sentences using these words correctly. Perhaps you have also heard native speakers use the word ain’t. Although some native speakers use it, ain’t is not a real word. It is incorrect English, and you should not use it.

Double negatives and how to correct them

Double negatives are easy to correct. Whenever you see the word or syllable “no,” substitute “any.” For example, nobody can become anybody. Nowhere can be come anywhere. If you say, ” I didn’t see nothing,” it means that you actually saw something.

Below are some sentences written with double negatives. After each sentences you will see one or two ways to say the same thing correctly. One is with the verb in the negative and the negative word changed to an “any” word. Another will be with the verb in the affirmative and a negative word. Remember either one negative verb or one negative word is a sentence is fine. But you can only have one negative per sentence.

Example sentences

Here are examples or double negatives and how to correct them.

1. He doesn’t know nothing. (incorrect)

  • He doesn’t know anything  .
  • He knows nothing  . (both correct)

 

2. She didn’t want no ice cream. (incorrect)

  • She didn’t want any ice cream .
  • She wanted no ice cream (both correct)

 

3. I have no money, so I won’t be going nowhere on vacation. (incorrect)

  • I have no money, so I won’t be going anywhere on vacation .
  • I have no money, so I’m going nowhere on vacation . (both correct)

 

4. I didn’t know no one at the party. (incorrect)

  • I didn’t know anyone at the party .
  • I knew no one at the party . (both correct)

 

5. I haven’t seen none of his family. (incorrect)

  • I haven’t seen any of his family .
  • I’ve seen none of his family . (both correct)

 

6. I drove to my friend’s house, but there wasn’t nobody home. (incorrect)

  • I drove to my friend’s house, but there wasn’t anybody home .
  • I drove to my friend’s house, but nobody was home . (both correct)

 

7. He couldn’t never find his glasses. (incorrect)

  • He could never find his glasses .
  • He couldn’t ever find his glasses . (both correct)

Note: In this sentence, ever is a positive word and never is a negative one. Thus there there is only one negative word is the sentence.

 

8. They won’t like neither of the choices. (incorrect)

  • They won’t like either of the choices .
  • They will like neither of the choices . (both correct)

Note: Either is a positive word and neither is a negative one. So again, there is only one negative word per sentence.

Additional examples

Here are some additional examples of double negatives and how to correct them.

  • I can’t barely read this. (incorrect)
  • I can barely read this . (correct)

 

  • It doesn’t hardly ever rain in a desert. (incorrect)
  • It hardy ever rains in a desert . (correct)

 

  • He doesn’t scarcely make enough money to live on. (incorrect)
  • He scarcely makes enough money to live on . (correct)

 

  • We ain’t been to work in a week. (incorrect)
  • We haven’t been to work in a week . (correct)

Is it ever correct to use double negatives?

Perhaps you have heard double negative in popular songs. Many popular songs use them. Here are some examples: “I can’t get no satisfaction,” “We don’t need no education,”, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” Double negatives are acceptable in popular songs. That is probably the only time that double negatives are acceptable to use in English.

You may want to use double negatives with your friends. If you do so, be careful so that you don’t get into a bad habit. Do not use double negatives with your boss or with an important client.

You now know that double negatives are sentences with a negative verb and a negative word. You also know that double negatives are not correct English, and you should avoid them. Most of the time, you can substitute an “any” word for the negative word.

You can also keep the verb in the sentence in the affirmative if you want to keep the negative word. If you learn to avoid double negatives, you will impress your friends and co-workers with your English skill. You will also speak better English than many native speakers! Use the download for additional practice in correcting double negatives.

You can download the practice sheet now!

Idioms of the day

  1. To sweep something under the rug . This means to try to hide something, usually a problem. He tried to sweep his alcohol problems under the rug by using a lot of mouthwash when he was drinking.
  2. To get cold feet  . This means to quit something because you are afraid you will not be successful. He wanted to ask his girlfriend to marry him, but he didn’t because he got cold feet.

Related Lesson: Cognates–The Same Word, the Same Meaning in Different Languages

Misty Davidson
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