Double Negatives

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.

  • I opened the door, but I saw nothing. (NOT I opened the door, but I did not see nothing.)
  • You never understand me. (NOT You don’t never understand me.)

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.

  • I opened the door, but I saw nothing. OR I opened the door, but I didn’t see anything. (NOT I opened the door, but I saw anything.)

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

  • Nothing happened. (NOT Not anything happened.)
  • Nobody came. (NOT Not anybody came.)

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:

  • didn’t see nobody.
  • He didn’t say nothing.

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’.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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