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Adjectives Versus Adverbs

Don't Use No Double Negatives

A double negative is a statement that contains two negative describing words. For instance:

Double negative: The shopper did not have no money left over after the binge.

Correct: The shopper did not have any money left over after the binge.

Or:

The shopper had no money left over after the binge.

To avoid this grammatical faux pas, use only one negative word to express a negative idea. Here are the most frequently used negative words:

You Could Look It Up

A double negative is a statement that contains two negative describing words.

Quoth the Maven

Many negative words begin with n, just like no: not, nothing, never, none, nothing. Use this trick to help you remember negative words.

Take My Word for It

From the 1400s to the 1700s, it was customary to crowd as many negative words as possible into a sentence. See, you were just born too late.

  • no
  • never
  • not
  • none
  • nothing
  • hardly
  • scarcely
  • barely

Double negatives are sneaky little critters. They are especially likely to cause problems with contractions. When the word not is used in a contraction—such as isn't, doesn't, wouldn't, couldn't, don't—the negative tends to slip by. As a result, writers and speakers may add another negative.

Double negative: He didn't say nothing.

Correct: He didn't say anything.

Or:

He said nothing.

Don't Be Making No Mistakes

To make sure that you keep those double negatives straight, rewrite each of the following sentences to eliminate the double negative.

  1. Sadly, I didn't have no cash.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  2. Louie won't talk to nobody until his lawyer arrives.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  3. Now, I can't eat nothing.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  4. They couldn't hardly finish their meal on time.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  5. Ms. Packasandra hasn't never been to HoHoKus before.
    • ____________________________________________________________________

Answers

Possible responses:

  1. Sadly, I didn't have any cash.
    • Or:
    • Sadly, I had no cash.
  2. Louie won't talk to anybody until his lawyer arrives.
    • Or:
    • Louie won't talk to anyone until his lawyer arrives.
  3. Now, I can't eat anything.
  4. They could hardly finish their meal on time.
  5. Ms. Packasandra hasn't ever been to HoHoKus before.
    • Or:
    • Ms. Packasandra has never been to HoHoKus before.
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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