It’s not, not negative

Two wrongs make a right, right? No it’s still wrong. Well what about two negatives? In writing putting two negatives in the same sentence is called a double negative. We learn this pretty early in school. However the lesson is often lost at time goes on. For some.

Double negatives. I have been seeing these puppies popping up more and more in literature. Mostly in self published pieces that are poorly edited/revised. Not only do they make a sentence harder to interpret than necessary they are often wordy (You all know how I like to keep my word count down).

I can’t think of a single reason I’d purposefully put a double negative into narrative. It would be like saying I can’t think of no reason to put double negatives into narrative. Blech. Dialogue is where I’ve been spying these parasites. Not only do they harsh the sentence, they affect what I call ‘reader reception’ The act of how a reader receives the words written and whether they enjoy them or not.

Basically a double negative is a very round about way to say something positive.

There are more than one type of double negative.

Double Negative Examples

  • I can’t take you kids nowhere.
  • She never goes with nobody.
  • I’ve not seen neither Bill or Bob play baseball.
  • I can’t do nothing about this. 
  • He didn’t want no one to see him cry.

Prefix Double negatives.  Forming a negative using in-, non-, ir- and un.

  • This behavior is not uncommon.
  • The damage was not insignificant.
  • She wasn’t irresponsible with her dog Spike.
  • It’s not unnecessary to lie.

Negative word double negatives. Using a negative word to form the double negative.

  • I can’t barely eat another bite.
  • They seldom don’t often go out to play.
  • I hardly have no patience left.
  • The news scarcely made no impression on me

Are you cringing yet? I am.

I know what you’re thinking. Some people do talk this way. That is true. If, and this is a big fat if, I was going to use double negatives in dialogue because this is how I want a person to speak, I’d be careful to only have one person talk this way and not a major character. If every person in the story spoke this way it would turn me off very quickly. I’d close the book and probably never give it a second chance. Readers automatically expect a higher level of grammar regardless.

Here is an example of how the flow and ‘reader reception’ is altered by double negatives.

Amber scratched her head looking at the nail-polish poster layouts and the opinion data. “This data doesn’t make no sense to me. I can’t just do nothing to fix this.”
Dale looked around the divider between their desks. “It’s not rocket science. That advertisement scarcely had no feedback in the preliminaries. You need to run some more focus groups. I say target the younger ages.”
Amber nodded looking at the three potential layouts. “It worked for the colour changing shoes, It isn’t right not to try more groups.”

I barfed a bit in my mouth, I’m not going to lie. Okay so that was extreme, however it show’s the awkwardness of the double negative dialogue. It becomes stilted to read and hard to interpret. When I read. I dislike when the pace is slowed down unnecessarily.

Amber scratched her head looking at the nail-polish poster layouts and the opinion data. “I’m confused over this data. I need to fix this.”
Dale looked around the divider between their desks. “It’s not rocket science. That advertisement had scarce feedback in the preliminaries. You need to run some more focus groups. I say target the younger ages.”
Amber nodded looking at the three potential layouts. “It worked for the colour changing shoes, I definitely need to to try more groups.”

When I edit and revise I search for negative words. Negative sentences can leave a gloomy feel and with a little tweaking they can come out sounding more natural.

My advice about Double negatives in writing.
I didn’t not want to be clever with my advice about leaving double negatives out. Leave them out. There, I wasn’t irresponsible with my advice.


Other posts

The Runaway

All that glitters…

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Negative or positive

Words are interesting as are their meanings. Yesterday out of the blue someone I’m familiar with but not friends with paid me a sincere compliment. I was flattered and it made me feel good about myself. It wasn’t flattery it was a complement. What’s the difference? I’m confused. That’s because flatter, flattered and flattery can be interpreted or used for both negative or positive.

Flatter / Flattered – (Verb) (Source:

  1. to try to please by complimentary remarks or attention.

Stuck in her routine Sasha entered the common office. Scott, the office heartthrob, was leaning casually against his desk as usual and chatting with an amiable group. As he did every day, he glanced at Sasha, looked her over from head to toe and back. The slight curl to his lips as he made eye contact then turned back to his conversation, made her insides flutter from the flattering appraisal.

Karl entered Sasha’s office and she nodded a greeting. “I brought you a coffee.” He held the paper takeout cup to her. “Just the way you like it. I was there and thought after the late presentation last night you might want one.”
“Thanks Karl.” She took the offered beverage. He always meant well, the new guy who quickly learned who was important and who acted important, and flattered appropriately.
“I was in awe yesterday, you really know how to work a room. And that layout, it wasn’t like anything I’ve seen. So edgy and unique. How did you do it?”
Sasha smiled, Karl was keen and honest about it. Had it been Jada she would have shooed her from her office and shut the door.

  1. to praise or compliment insincerely, effusively, or excessively:

“Sasha that layout was the best thing I’ve seen in months. And your presentation yesterday, wow you really knocked it out of the park.”
She narrowed her eyes at Jada, she only applied flattery when she wanted something.

  1. to represent favorably; gratify by falsification:

“Sasha I want this to showcase the lead actor as the best thing since sliced bread.”
“Even though he’s not and everyone in the world knows it?”
“Your job is to make him new again by design, flatter him and force the people want to believe he’s amazing. Whether he is or not doesn’t matter.”

  1. to show to advantage:

Sasha spent her weekend revamping her style, a flattering haircut and new suits and blouses that fit perfectly.

  1. to play upon the vanity or susceptibilities of; cajole, wheedle, or beguile:

“It was too easy.” Jada smirked. “I simply plied them with constant insincere compliments, favors and gifts and they signed the contract in under a week.”
“Or you could present good work and earn the contract like Sasha does.” Valery mumbled under her breath.

  1. to please or gratify by compliments or attentions:

“Oh Sash, I’m so jealous you look hot today.” Anne hugged her friend firmly. “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Sasha grinned.
“Seriously you look awesome, your new Yoga class is paying off and your hair, that cut is sexy on you.”
“Thanks Anne that means a lot coming from you.” Sasha meant it and her friend smiled.

  1. to feel satisfaction with (oneself), especially with reference to an accomplishment, act, or occasion:

Sasha smiled at the message in her email. She had done very well yesterday and was pleased with the outcome. “I so deserve this praise.”

Sometimes its good for banter between friends to illustrate their comfort with one another.

“You look like crap Sash.” Valery chuckled.
“Flatterer. I couldn’t sleep last night and coffee isn’t casting its magic strong enough.”

It is often assumed Flattery is negative, but it’s not always. Some people will misread this word as negative unless it is clearly supported by effective writing.

My advice about Flattery.
It’s a common practice to flatter or be flattered, negative or positive. Work flattery it in once and a while it’s fun. Just make sure the reader understands how you meant it.


An older but fun post: What happened to that guy?

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