Double Negatives

Posted by Manjusha. Filed in English Grammar

In some languages, a negative word like nothing, nobody or never has to be used with a negative verb. In English, these words are themselves enough to give a negative meaning. It is not necessary to use not with these words.

Nobody or not anybody

Nobody and not anybody have similar meanings. Nobody is more emphatic than not anybody. In the same way, nothing is more emphatic than not anything. Note that the words anybody, anything, ever etc need to be used with not to give a negative meaning.

Not anybody, not anything etc, cannot be used at the beginning of a clause. Instead we use nobody, nothing etc.

Double negatives

Double negatives are normal in informal English. These are constructions in which two or more negative words occur in a single clause.

Examples are:

Although double negatives are common, they are not regarded as standard. Note that a double negative is not equivalent to a positive. For example, the sentence 'I didn't hear nothing' does not mean that 'I heard something'. It is merely a non-standard way of saying 'I didn't hear anything'.


Sections in this article

Primary Auxiliaries
Be as an ordinary verb
Be as an auxiliary verb
Be: structures
Have: structures