Double Negatives In English Grammar

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  • Post last modified:09/12/2021
  • Post category:English Grammar
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Learn how to use double negatives in English grammar. Double negatives are often used in movies and songs, but grammatically they are incorrect. However, as always in English, there are some exceptions. Let’s learn how to use double negatives in English correctly.

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double negatives in English grammar

Hi there, this is Harry and welcome back to my English lessons where I try to help you to get a better understanding of English. Whether it’s for conversational English or business English. Whether you want to try and get through that all-important first or second interview for a job with an international company. Whatever it might be, you’re in the right place, and hopefully, I can help you.

So what are we going to talk about? Often when I’m teaching students, they fall into the old habit of using what I call double negatives or two negatives. Two negative words in the one sentence, and it’s a definite, I’m going to use two negatives now, it’s a definite no-no.

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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

INSANITY: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

For example,

I haven’t seen nothing.

That’s absolutely bad English, and you shouldn’t use it. The obvious options are,

✔️ I haven’t seen anything.

✔️ I have seen nothing.

Negative with a positive or positive with a negative, but it’s something that quite happens quite often.

Occasionally, double negatives are used, but in very, very infrequent situations, and also in very, very informal situations, almost like slang.

What is a double negative?

A double negative is usually defined as two negative words that appear in the same sentence.

I haven’t seen nothing.

I don’t have nothing. 

I don’t want nothing.

If you’re getting confused, try and remember your mathematics.

-2 x – 3 = +6

If we apply that mathematical thinking to our English is exactly the same. Two negatives will result in a positive.

✔️ I have seen nothing.

✔️ I have nothing.

✔️ I want nothing.

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How to not use double negatives

What I’m going to do now, I’m just going to give you some examples of sentences where we use the double negative and then I’m going to put them into the correct format.

I don’t know nobody who’s coming.

To a party, for example.

What you should be saying is,

✔️ I know nobody who’s coming.


✔️ I don’t know anybody who’s coming.

Okay? So make sure you have a positive and a negative or negative and a positive. And that would be perfect English.

Another example.

I don’t have no time for that. 

What it should be is

✔️ I don’t have any time for that.

✔️ I have no time for that.

I can’t get no satisfaction.

It’s okay for Mick Jagger to say it, but not okay for you to say. So what you should say is,

✔️ I can’t get any satisfaction.


✔️ I got no satisfaction.

If you were making a complaint, for example, in a restaurant or a bar. But only if you’re Mick Jagger, you can say I can’t get no satisfaction.

I’m not Mick Jagger. I’m sure he’s not listening to my podcast or subscribing to my YouTube channel. So we just have to do without.

Another example.

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Another line from another song. What we really mean to say is,

✔️ You haven’t seen anything yet.

It’s much better English. Don’t get confused by the words of the song. Enjoy the song, by all means, try and sing it much better than I did, I hope. But You ain’t seen nothing yet should be You haven’t seen anything yet.

double negatives in English grammar

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I can’t find my keys nowhere.

It’s not from a song. It’s just somebody comes in and they’re looking for the car keys. 

✔️ I cannot find my keys anywhere.

So nowhere becomes anywhere. That negative, we put it into a positive, and you have one negative

✔️ I cannot find my keys anywhere.

Positive perfect English. Okay. Again, avoid at all costs those double negatives.

She never goes with nobody.

Again, you’re getting hopefully the hang of it now.

✔️ She never goes with anybody.

✔️ He or she goes with nobody.

She always goes on her own. She never goes with anybody. Or she goes with nobody, she prefers to go on her own either. 

And then finally,

All the witnesses claimed that they didn’t see nobody.

✔️ All the witnesses claimed that they didn’t see anybody.

So avoid those double negatives in English grammar. Make the sentence sound much more effective and much, much more professional.

double negatives in English grammar

How to use double negatives (exceptions)

Like all English, that tends to be a few exceptions. So let me just give you a few exemption exceptions in relation to this aspect of double negatives. 

  1. Double negatives can be permitted if the intention is to make a positive statement. 

It wasn’t very expensive, but it certainly didn’t cost nothing.

So here you mean, it certainly cost something it was actually money, but it wasn’t as expensive as I thought.

It means that you didn’t get it for nothing, you did have to pay but not what you had thought you might have to pay. So we can use it when the intention is to turn it into a positive. 

Let’s give you another example.

When I said I didn’t want a lot of fuss about my birthday, I didn’t mean no fuss.

So here, we’re using two negatives. In fact, we can use it because the intention was for it to be positive. So what you’re really saying is,

When I said I didn’t want any fuss for my birthday, I meant a little bit, but not a big party. I wanted something, perhaps something in the family.

So you wanted something, but not the big, big, flamboyant, expensive celebration. So in that situation, you can use the double negatives because the intention was to turn them into a positive. 

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2. Another way in which we can use double negatives is where when we use NOT with a negative prefix.

So let me give you a little example of that.

He wasn’t irresponsible about his duties.

Means he was responsible, he was very responsible about his duties.

This gemstone is not uncommon.

It means this gemstone is common, you see it everywhere.

And finally,

The results are not inconclusive.

It means that they are conclusive, we did get information from the results.

So in those situations, you’re using not a negative word with the negative of an adjective by adding one of those negative prefixes.

So just study them for a while, just to understand what they mean. If you have any problems, come back to me, and I’ll try and explain it to you again.

double negatives in English grammar

A quick rule of thumb

So let’s just look at a quick rule of thumb when we want to use anything (anybody, anyone, anywhere).

We can use them in questions.

  • Is there anything I can do for you?
  • Is there anyone you want me to call?
  • Is there anybody you know, suitable for this job? 

We use them with statements that include not or no.

  • I don’t know anything about it.
  • I don’t know anybody that would be suitable.
  • I don’t know anyone that would be able to answer the question.

And if you want to use nothing, then we can use it in statements where there is no other negative word.

  • There is nothing I can do.
  • There is nothing I can add.
  • There is nothing more I can tell you. 

If you don’t understand that, if you don’t follow it, come back to me and I’ll try to explain it again and give you a few more examples.

You will definitely hear them in songs, you will definitely hear them in movies, but we don’t use them in speech because they sound wrong. They give a bad impression. Thanks a lot for listening.

If you want to contact me, you can contact me on Very happy to hear from you. Very happy to talk to you. Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy this. Join me again soon.

More information

For more information on English grammar rules, English collocations and English idioms, check out the links below:

11 Collocations with KNOW

10 Different words for WALKING

You can always study English advanced level at Learning English with the BBC.

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