Language Matters: Double Negatives are a No-No

In many languages, double negatives are acceptable and even proper.  In English, they’re usually wrong.

In fact, two negatives in English cancel each other out to create a positive meaning!

So if you said, “I don’t have no pencils,” you’re actually saying, “I have pencils.”

However, even though double negatives are technically incorrect in English, most people will understand your original meaning if you use them.  So if you were to say to your classmate who was asking to borrow a pencil that you “don’t have no pencils,” your classmate will most likely accept that you don’t have any pencils.

Actually, your use of double negatives demonstrates what you technically said -- that you DO need education!

They probably won’t choose to nitpick you on your grammar.

Still, it’s best to avoid double negatives, except in the one instance when they’re useful in English.

Say you just met a friend of a friend and you’re not sure how you feel about him yet.  After a few minutes of conversation with him, he leaves and your friend turns to you.  ”What did you think of him?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t dislike him,” you answer.

Your answer implies that you didn’t exactly like him, but you didn’t dislike him either.  Saying you “don’t dislike” him conveys a different message from saying you “like” him.

What do you think of double negatives in English?  Do the rules make sense, or are they another example of the weirdness of English?

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