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.
All that glitters…
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