Sentence Fluency: Avoid Double Negatives

Contributor: Elephango Editors. Lesson ID: 12624

You don't not want to miss this lesson! You can't never guess how much you'll learn! What am I trying to say? Like a battery can't have two negatives, neither can a sentence if you want to make sense!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Did you know that double negatives are okay to use in many languages?

For example, they are very common in Spanish. If someone asked you, "What's in the box?" you could answer, "¡No hay nada!" which means "There is not nothing!"

You could even say, "He didn't say nothing to nobody!" in Spanish (¡No le dijo nada a nadie!).

But in English, that's a big NO-NO!

Read on to find out why.

In English, you can use double negatives in talking to a friend and still be understood, but you should not use them in your writing assignments!

(Before moving on, if you need to see any of the previous Sentence Fluency lessons, go to Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar.)

As you probably already know or have guessed, a double negative happens when you use two negative words in the same sentence.

In proper English, using two negatives in a sentence is understood as canceling them out and making it a positive statement.

For example:

  • Incorrect: I can't see nothing.

If you can not see nothing, then you can see something.

Correct: I can't see anything.

  • Incorrect: I don't know nothing.

If you do not know nothing, then you do know something.

Correct: I don't know anything.

  • Incorrect: I don't have no time for English lessons.

If you do not have no time, then you must have some time.

Correct: I don't have time for English lessons.

Some common negative words are:

  • no
  • not
  • none
  • never
  • nobody
  • nothing
  • hardly
  • barely
  • scarcely

Contractions with the word not are also negative words, such as:

  • isn't
  • haven't
  • couldn't
  • can't
  • won't

Take out a piece of paper and pencil. As you watch Everyday Grammar: Double Negatives, from VOA Learning English, write down 2 examples of double negative sentences. Then, write the sentences the correct way.

  • Do you understand why you can't use two negative words in one sentence?

Avoiding the use of double negatives in your sentences is another way to improve sentence fluency. It makes your writing easier to read and to understand!

Continue to the Got It? section to practice correcting double negatives in sentences.

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