Negative Structures(4): Double Negatives

1 English and other languages
A double negative uses two negative words in the same clause to express a single idea.
Examples:
a) We didn’t see nothing. (= We didn’t see anything.)
b) He never danced with nobody. (= He never danced with anybody.)
c) Billy hasn’t eaten nothing.(= He hasn’t eaten anything.)
In standard English, when we use negative words such as ‘nobody’, ‘nowhere’, ’never’, or ‘nothing’, we don’t commonly use a negative verb. By themselves, they give negative meaning and ‘not’ is not needed.
Examples:
a) She has never been abroad. (Not.. She hasn’t never been abroad.)
b) Nobody came to the house for the fiesta.(Not ...Nobody didn’t come to the house....)
c) They had nothing interesting to tell us. (Not...They hadn’t nothing to tell us.)
However, we hear double or triple negatives spoken in some regional dialects in English and in other languages. This is common when people from the same region are speaking with one another. Negative words like ‘nobody’, ‘nothing’, or ‘never’ are used with a negative.
Examples:
a) They haven’t given me nothing.
b) There aren’t nobody here today.
c) Sally hasn’t nowhere to go if she doesn’t change her mind.
Note: Double negatives are not acceptable in formal structures or in writing.
2 nobody and not anybody etc
‘Nobody’ and ‘no one’ mean the same. ‘Nobody’ is less formal then ‘no one’. We use ‘no one’ more than ‘nobody’ in writing.
Examples:
a) I knew nobody at the party last night.
b) As the bombs exploded outside , no one moved, no one said any word.
c) She looked out of the door, but she saw no one at the gate.
‘Nobody’,’ no one’, ‘nothing’, ‘nowhere’ are stronger and more definite than ‘not...anybody/anyone/anything/anywhere’.
Examples:
a) Paula did nothing.(stronger than ...Paula didn’t do anything.)
b) The young girl told no one.( stronger than ...The young girl didn’t tell anyone.)
c) The tear-gassed rioters could go nowhere. ( stronger than... The tear-gassed crowd couldn’t go anywhere.)

When we use ‘anybody’,’ anyone’, anything’, ‘anywhere’, we need to use with them ‘not’ to give a negative meaning.
Examples:
a) Don’t buy them anything for Christmas.
b) Pamela shouted at the door, but she couldn’t see anybody.
c) Isn’t there anything to eat here?
d) They weren’t going anywhere.
e) I can’t find anyone to come with me.
3 When ‘nothing’, ‘never’, ’nobody’ ,etc are used at the beginning of a clause, we invert the subject and the verb.
Examples;
a) Nothing can change what happened today in the city.
b) Never in my life have I seen such bravery.
c) Nowhere could we sit during the performance.

4 dialects
In many British, American and other dialects, two or more negatives can be used with a single negative meaning.
Example:
a) I don’t need no pizza. (standard English: I don’t need any pizza.)
b) We ain’t got no badges.( from “the Treasure of Sierra Madre”...standard English: We don’t have any badges.)
c) We don’t need no education. (from “Another Brick on the Wall”...standard English: We don’t need any education.)

5 two negative ideas: not...or/ not...nor
When ‘not’ refers to two or more verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc , we usually join the with ‘or’.
Examples:
a) You may buy a cook book or a hard disk.
b) The children thought they could play the game or watch it.
c) Did you find the keys on the table or on the floor?
d) Do you want to eat chocolate ice cream or strawberry flavour?

However, we can use ‘nor’ after a pause to separate and emphasize the second verb, adjective, etc.

Examples:
a)He didn’t eat his lunch, his supper, nor any other meal.
b)Betsy shouldn’t ski, nor should she skate .
c) They wouldn’t wait for you, for me, nor for anybody.

6 I don’t think
There are some cases where we can use reporting verbs such as ‘imagine’, ‘suppose’, and ‘think’ in end position, after the reported clause. In such cases, both clauses may have a negative verb.
Examples:
a) He ‘s not a chemical engineer, i don’t think.
b) Salome hasn’t got much chance of becoming a physician, I can’t imagine.
c) I wouldn’t be late for dinner, I shouldn’t suppose.

7 extra negative in expressions of doubt
When we use verbs like ‘think’, ‘believe’, ‘suppose’ (mental process verbs) to express uncertainty about something, we usually use ‘not’ with the mental process verb.
Examples:
a) We shouldn’t wonder if those students don’t pass the entrance exams.
b) I don’t believe I can’t cross that wooden bridge now.
c) They wondered whether they oughtn’t to go abroad for a vacation or stay in the country.
Q&A
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