Multiple Negation in English

Multiple negation involves the presence of more than one negative in a particular sentence.

What Is a Double Negative?

A double negative occurs when two negative terms are used in the same sentence.

Negative forms in English are created by adding a negation to the verb.

I will go to Japan.

I will not go to Japan.

Sometimes there are negative forms of nouns such as “nowhere”, “nothing”, and “no one”.

A double negative is usually created by combining the negative form of a verb with a negative pronoun, a negative adverb, or a negative conjunction.

Examples of Double Negatives

There are common incorrect uses of double negatives:

There ain’t no…

I don’t got no time.

I can’t find my keys nowhere.

There are sentences with only two negatives, that is a double negation (e.g. I couldn´t see nothing), or with more than two (e.g. She couldn´t see nothing nowhere).

Sometimes two or more negative forms co-occur in the same clause. There are two different types of multiple negation, one in which the negative forms co-occur in the same clause to express a single negative meaning, and one in which the negative forms have independent negative force.

Dependent multiple negation

Two or more negative forms may co-occur within the same clause to express a single negative meaning.

There ain´t nothing we can do.

He told her not to say nothing to nobody.

Independent multiple negation

Negative forms may naturally co-occur in cases of repetition. In these cases, the negative forms are not integrated within the same clause:

No, not today, he said.

There´s no one to blame not really.

In these examples, the negative forms are independent, since none of them can be replaced by non-assertive forms (without also adding not).

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