double negative


double negative
double negative
1.

• He never did no harm to no one —The Archers (radio broadcast), 1987.

This, and other double negative constructions, can easily be found in all varieties of English used throughout the world. It is commonly associated with poorly educated East London English and Black English spoken in the US:

• I don't take no money from no white folks —Chicago Tribune, 1990.

2. It surprises many people, for whom double negatives are self-evidently wrong, to know that they were once an integral feature of standard English, and are to be found in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and other writers up to the 17c. For reasons that are no longer discoverable, the logic then changed: instead of compounding each other, a sequence of negatives came to be regarded as self-cancelling; in other words, an arithmetical argument replaced a linguistic one. Thereafter, playwrights put double negatives into the conversation of vulgar speakers, and 18c grammarians roundly condemned them.
3. In current English, a type of double negative is used with intentional cancelling effect, as a kind of figure of speech as in It has not gone unnoticed (i.e. It has been noticed) and This was a not unwelcome development (i.e. It was very welcome). On the other hand, double negatives used to reinforce each other are taken as sure signs of a poor education and are rarely tolerated in normal speech. However, since attitudes have changed remarkably in the past on this issue, they may well change again.
4. Double negatives also occur, especially in speech, in uses of the type You can't not go (i.e. you cannot consider not going, you have to go), in which not go is effectively a unified concept expressed in a verb phrase.

Modern English usage. 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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