Don’t Be Usin’ No Double Negatives

"If you want to sing in our band, you'll have to overcome your fear of using double negatives."

  • In “The Wall,” Pink Floyd sang, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.
  • The Rolling Stones sang the now-famous lyric “I can’t get no satisfaction.
  • The 1968 song “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone is better known as “I Ain’t Got Nobody.
  • Elvis made popular “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.”

There’s no doubt about it: popular music makes double negatives seem normal and correct. Yet, English simply does not condone them. Most double negatives are obvious and easy to avoid. When there’s a “no” and a “not” hovering around the same clause, you know it’s a double negative problem. Slightly more subtle is the combination of a negative verb and a negative pronoun, as in: “I don’t want nothing.” Of course, you know that it’s correct to say “I don’t want anything or I want nothing”, but it’s not correct to say both in the same sentence. In fact, this subject is so easy and uncomplicated, that a user of double negatives must be doing it on purpose. It’s hard to imagine a person so lost in his syntax that he doesn’t know any better.

double negatives 1Other languages deal with this problem differently. (Spanish, for example, not only accepts the double negative, but requires it.) English is uncompromising. Only one negative per clause, please!

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Born in Pittsburgh, educated at Yale. Practiced law in Washington DC. Moved to Colorado. Lived in Mexico. Translator and internet content writer.

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