Monday, April 16, 2007

4. Double Negatives and AIN'T Reviewed

Hello, Everyone, and welcome back to take a look at a usage problem we hear WAY too much!


Some of the following examples were printed in various newspapers this past week--most from direct quotes of people being interviewed.

Can you identify what the errors are?


1. After he was laid off, Jim realized that he didn't need none of the luxuries he had once enjoyed.

2. I'm not bringing nothing in this room until I am good and ready.

3. He wasn't in no trouble noway.

4. There wasn't hardly no tea in the pitcher.

5. My sister thought it didn't make no sense for me to stay in bed half the day.

Some of these kinds of statements sound very familiar, don't they? Unfortunately, we are beginning to hear not only double negatives, but triple, quadruple, etc. negatives also. So, what is the rule, anyway? First, we need to explain NEGATIVE words:

Some common negative words in the English language are

no, not, never, none, nobody, nothing, nowhere, etc.

These same negatives are also often used as part of a contraction (a word containing an apostrophe indicating that at least one letter has been left out of the word).

Examples: isn't (is not), don't (do not), didn't (did not), wasn't (was not), can't (cannot), won't (will not), and many others.

NOTE: Now we all know that the contraction AIN'T is NOT an acceptable use of AM NOT, IS NOT, or ARE NOT, don't we? I agree that it may be strange that we can use all sorts of contractions (such as those above) that are perfectly acceptable standard English, so why can't we use AIN'T? The answer is that our language, once again, is constantly changing and inconsistent. Somewhere along the line, all of the other contractions have made it into the "acceptable standard English" category, but, for some reason, AIN'T has not. Stay tuned. It's used so much today that who knows? Maybe we'll live long enough to see this happen (much to the chagrin of English teachers like me and those who love the language the way it is now), but we'll just have to wait and see. (By the way, for those of you who argue that AIN'T is in the dictionary so it must be okay to use, let me remind you that there are many words in the dictionary that are not acceptable as standard English--they are non-standard forms. Actually, before the 1970's, it is true that dictionaries WERE the "bosses" of correct language. In the early 1960's, however, WEBSTER'S THIRD UNABRIDGED made some radical changes and started including every word in use at the time--standard or non-standard-- in their new editions. This, of course, infuriated plenty of people although Webster's DID include usage notes to clarify the questionable items. Nevertheless, please make me happy by NOT saying

You AIN'T heard nothing yet!. (Say ...You haven't heard anything yet!)
...or...
DoN'T bring me NO boiled peanuts unless they're good and juicy ! (Say...Don't bring me any boiled peanuts unless they're good and juicy!)



Okay, so back to the matter at hand. There are a few more negatives that you need to know. The following words are also negatives, although we sometimes forget some of these :

scarcely, hardly, barely

What this means is that not only do we have to watch out for the obvious negative words such as no, never, none, not, nobody, etc. but scarcely, hardly, and barely. Just remember NOT to use more than one of any of these in a sentence. Again, make me happy by NOT saying

I didN'Tt HARDLY know NOBODY at that church picnic. (Say..I knew hardly anybody at that church picnic...or...I knew almost nobody at that church picnic...or...I didn't know anybody at that church picnic.)
...or...
I AIN'T got NOTHING to wear today!. (Say...I don't have anything to wear today!...or ...I have nothing to wear today!.)
...or...
Butch caN'T HARDLY finish his chores before he's ready to sit down. (Say...Butch can hardly finish his chores...or...Butch can't finish his chores...)




This all brings us to a very simple rule:

AVOID USING MORE THAN ONE NEGATIVE IN A SENTENCE. WHEN THIS HAPPENS, THE SENTENCE IS NOT NEGATIVE ANYMORE. REMEMBER THAT TWO (OR MORE) NEGATIVES MAKE A POSITIVE.

For example, in sentence #1 above, if you say

...Jim realized he DIDN'T need NONE.. you are saying that he DID actually need the luxuries. This error can be corrected by saying ... Jim realized he needed NONE of the luxuries... or...Jim realized he DIDN'T need any of the luxuries...

In sentence #2 above, if you said

I'm NOT bringing NOTHING in this room... you are saying that you ARE bringing something into this room. This error can be corrected by saying...I'm bringing NOTHING in this room... or...I'm NOT bringing anything in this room...


In sentence #3 above, we have, not only two, but THREE negatives used! If you say

He wasN'T in NO trouble NO way...you are saying that he Was in trouble (big time!) This error can be corrected by saying...He wasN'T in any trouble anyway..or...He was in NO trouble anyway,,.

In sentence #4 above, we once again see the misuse of THREE negatives! If you say

There wasN'T HARDLY NO tea in the pitcher...you are saying that there WAS tea in the pitcher. This error can be corrected by saying...There was NO tea in the pitcher....or Tea was NOT(or wasN'T) in the pitcher...

In sentence #5, if you say

...it didN'T make NO sense... you are actually saying that it DID make sense. Just say, ...it made No sense...or...it didN'T make sense...

These sentences can probably be corrected other ways, also, but the bottom line is that you should avoid using more than one negative in a sentence. You have lots of ways to correct a sentence with this problem--just be sure your final product has only ONE NEGATIVE.

ANOTHER NOTE: You may ask why the rule doesn't say NEVER use more than one negative per sentence instead of AVOID using more than one negative Here's the reason: Sometimes you might intend a positive or lukewarm meaning:

Camille was NOT UNhappy with the results of her test.

The use of NOT and UNhappy says that while Camille wasn't UNhappy, she wasn't exactly overjoyed either. She also might be thrilled, depending on what you mean.

It also works to use double negatives if you're using a clause or phrase for emphasis or parallel structure;

The General shouted, "I will not retreat--NOT today, NOT tomorrow, NOT ever!)

And, finally, you may actually intend two negatives to be positive. How many of you remember Sara Lee's well known ad

"NObody doesN'T like Sara Lee!"? (This negative appearing statement actually means the opposite--that everybody likes Sara Lee!)

In conclusion, we once again see exceptions to the rules. However, I hope you can also see the logic in most of these exceptions.

Have a great week and do feel free to drop me a line. Warmest regards, GG

2 comments:

Mary Santago said...

You create sense out of the foremost complex topics.Grammarly review

Martin Cuevas said...

Wow! Amazing explanation, thanks a lot :)