Double Negatives



Today’s episode is about double negatives, however I do go off topic in the beginning, but only for a couple of minutes. I will also explain what an oxymoron is, so tune in and learn some new vocabulary. Enjoy :)


Hola amigos y amigas, you are listening to the English Made Simple show this is episode number 1-1-4, *(correction: one hundred and fourteen :)), numero ciento catorce.

Hey hey, what’s up? Welcome to the English Made Simple show my name is Milena from,

How are you guys? Hope you are fine and dandy. I hope you are feeling very positive today.
You know what they say: “Positive thoughts, generate positive feelings and attract positive life experiences.”

Sounds great if you live in La-la land.

I am going to be completely negative today. I am going to completely crush your positive feelings today…buahahah.

Tell ya what, I am feeling very negative today – sarcastic and negative, I am feeling double negative today.

So, you guessed it amigos – we are going to talk about something negative in today’s episode. Today’s topic will be about “double negatives”.

First of all, is it wrong to use double negation in English language? Are there grammar rules for using double negation? What do I mean by double negatives? Do you have to be a celebrity to use double negatives? Do two wrongs make a right?

Haha ignore that last question – it was a sarcastic remark. Do two wrongs make a right?
It’s kind of an English saying, it’s actually called: a logical fallacy. Logical what?

Fallacy. According to Weon inteligente or the Online Dictionary, the word fallacy means “a deceptive, misleading or false notion, a false belief” In Spanish this is falacía o mentira.

For example, let’s consider this statement: at one time in history people thought the world was flat.
A logical fallacy is kind of an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a grammatical term – it’s a figure of speech -used to describe a term that uses words that are self-contradictory – let me give you a quick example, a quick example of an oxymoron cruel kindness – can you be cruel and kind at the same time? More examples of oxymorons are something like, impossible solution, definitely maybe, true lies, seriously funny and so on.

So, those were examples of oxymoron, two words contradicting each other.

So where was I?
Can two wrongs make a right? Can two wrong actions make one right result?

For example, my husband stole my chocolate bar today. So it’s ok for me to steal his sandwich then.

So now we are making it alright to steal from each other.
There is a joke in English, it goes something like this: Two wrongs don’t make a right, take your parents as an example.
Stupid joke!

Let me just stop here so I don’t go further off topic, I am getting myself distracted, así no me desvío más del tema, que estamos hablando.

Let me conclude my babbling, my gibberish by saying that: Two wrongs don’t make a right, all they do is create excuses.

As I was saying, today’s topic is about double negatives.

Double negatives are not acceptable in Standard English, and you shouldn’t use them except in very informal situations. If you are around your friends yes you can get away with double negatives.

You would be Ok using double negatives when you are with your friends.

However, in formal situations, in the very formal situations, when you are sitting exams, attending job interviews and business meetings, writing emails, doing presentations at work you must use Single Negative structures.

Amigos, let me refresh your memory about how to construct a sentence using a single negative.
Let me give you a quick example, using a single negative structure.

Starting with an affirmative sentence (a positive sentence): I will buy a jar of Nutella. The negative form: I will not buy a jar of Nutella.

We simply added the adverb NOT. I will not buy Nutella.

Another example:
I am going out with my friends tonight. That’s affirmative sentence.
I am not going out with my friends tonight. And that’s a negative one!
Cool, easy peasy lemon squeezy so far.

If I were to use a double negative version of those two examples, they would sound something like this:
I will not buy no Nutella.
I am not going nowhere tonight.
More examples would be, I haven’t done nothin. I don’t know nothing.

These sound very wrong to my ears. Those examples were double negatives and they would not be acceptable in Standard English language.

Did you know that the majority of world’s languages use double negatives and it’s ok to use them in other languages, like Spanish or Russian, or Serbian? I presume that is why it’s hard for many English learners to understand double negatives.
Anyway, in Spanish for example it would be perfectly fine to say:

No hay ningun problema. Literally meaning, there isn’t no problem. Translated correctly it would be, There isn’t a problem. Or There is no problem.

This all sounds simple so far, right?
Let’s complicate things a bit.

Did you also know there are certain words, certain adverbs that can behave as negatives?
For example, the words like: hardly, barely, seldom and rarely.
Hardly in Spanish is dificilmente. Barely, seldom and rarely (not often), all three would mean something like, casí nunca, rara vez. Meaning not often.

Because these words are treated as negative – their meaning is negative – they shouldn’t be used together with another negative term in the same sentence.

I don’t watch movies seldom. Sounds incorrect.
I hardly have no money. Another incorrect example.
I cannot hardly breathe.

Remember guys, you cannot negate sentences when you are using adverbs such as hardly, barely, seldom and rarely.

The correct way to use them:
I seldom watch movies. Meaning I don’t want movies that often.
I hardly have any money. Means I don’t always have money with me.
I can hardly breathe. Means I can’t breathe, I can hardly breathe.

Alrighty cool bananas! Someone said bananas? Who’s got bananas?
I ain’t got no bananas. Example of a double negative to use with friends. You can use that one.
I ain’t got no time for that. Another slang example of a double negative, used incorrectly.

So, when is it ok for us to use double negatives?

There are some situations where we can use double negatives.

There are two situations where it is OK to use double negatives.
The first one being, together with prefixes and the second one being if you are a celebrity, if you are a musician.
Just keep listening this will start to make sense soon.

The prefixes I am talking about here are the ones that you add at the beginning of an adjective to give it alternative meaning.

For example, prefix im-
You would use prefix im on the word POSSIBLE, if something is not Possible then it becomes Impossible. So the opposite of possible is impossible. The opposite of responsible is irresponsible. The opposite of natural is unnatural. The opposite of respectful is disrespectful.

So how is this ok to use with double negatives? I will give you an example where two negatives are used in the same sentence to express a positive idea rather than a negative one.

For instance, well it is not always unacceptable to use double-negatives.
So I used two negative words in the same sentence.
I said: Not unacceptable – to emphasize that something is perfectly acceptable.
Another example:

It is not uncommon to hear native speakers use double negatives. Meaning it does happen sometimes, it can be common.

Another example when double negatives are ok to use…let me give you another example.

It is not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone.
It is not unusual to be loved by anyone – famous song by a Welsh singer called Tom Jones – and now I have it stuck in my head, it’s a very catchy song by Tom Jones, released in 1965. You can dance to it, check it out, It’s called, it’s not unusual by Tom Jones. Some of you might have heard of the song.

Also, if you are Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones, you can also get away with double negatives. Their song, “I can’t get no satisfaction” doesn’t make any grammatical sense. But it does make sense to sing it out loud and dance like Mick Jagger.

And if you are a fan of Pink Floyd, you too can use double negatives: Their song called “We don’t need no education” uses a double negative. Another famous song that’s easy to sing along to.

So here we are amigos y amigas, I hope you’ve learnt something new today. Maybe you are off singing to Tom Jones and Mick Jagger now. Both Happy-dancey songs using double negatives. It’s a bit ironic, a bit of an oxymoron if you ask me. Haha That was very clever of me to use that word again, oxymoron. I am such a nerd. My husband thinks I am such an oxymoron. I think he is just a moron.

Anyway, I started off today’s episode on a negative note and finished it off on a high. I gave it a positive spin. I hope you are still feeling positive today!

Before we finish today, I’d like to say Hello to Armando from Mexico who currently lives in the US together with his wife Mayra and son Angel. Armando is learning English at the moment and he has suggested some cool ideas for the show like when to use certain tenses when you are talking with people. I will add it to my list. Thanks for your nice comments Armando, and keep listening to the show.

For the rest of my listeners, don’t forget transcripts are available on my website I try my best to provide you the perfect transcripts, however, there could be some spelling mistakes sometimes because I do them late at night and probably because I type with one hand. The other hand is busy munching on Nutella. Either way let me know if you see any spelling mistakes!

Thank you for listening to the show, you’ve been jamming with Milena-wannabe-Chilena, until next time, hasta la proxima!

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