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Unofficial_Member's avatar

Should double negative in English become recognized formally?

Asked by Unofficial_Member (5107points) January 13th, 2017

I’ll try to explain through examples. Usually when you tell someone you don’t want tomato you’ll say:
“I don’t want any tomato” or “I want no tomato”


If double negative is recognized officially as an addition to our English repertoire we can also say:
“I don’t want no tomato”

Why won’t the government just accept double negative as an addition to English grammar? It’s already well-accepted by many people (bar some grammar Nazis), and since language keeps on evolving there’s no reason to deny this.

Additionally, I think the word “ain’t” is also pretty versatile and should also be recognized officially. For example, you can use cool language usage like “I ain’t got no problem with you”. Should it also be recognized officially?

This type of English language usage has been existing for a long time, popularized by the media, and many people themselves have used it so there no use to deny this addition.

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31 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

This is like asking should we make driving the wrong way down a one way street legal? Ain’t not gonna happen.

zenvelo's avatar

Why won’t the government just accept double negative… shows part of your fallacy. The “government” doesn’t accept or reject language changes.

Language changes and evolves all the time. If people can understand when a double negative is used to intensify a negative, then it might evolve to being accepted practice. But if it is not clear in meaning, teachers and grammarians will continue to proscribe against it.

“Ain’t” is pretty well understood and accepted as an informal usage. But it is a grating and harsh sound, and inelegant in its usage, so it is scoffed upon.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

“The government” doesn’t regulate grammar. Do what you want. But be aware people make judgments about your language just as they do your appearance and clothes.

LostInParadise's avatar

There is no official grammar police. The use of ain’t and double negatives has been around for awhile. I don’t see any likelihood of their acceptance for formal use. If they ever do become acceptable, it may occur in tandem, since they work well together, but for the near future, there ain’t no way that it is gonna happen.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Round these here parts “y’all” is just part of the official lexicon. Unofficially. You never see it in any text unless it’s tongue in cheek but most people really do say it just like saying “hello”, or “how are you” or “everybody.” Whenever I hear a double negative though it seems to go beyond dialect and really sounds out of place. It makes the person seem really dull and uneducated, even in a land where people speak in a dialect that is often unrecognizable as english. I really don’t think it makes any sense to make it official.

JLeslie's avatar

Recognized formally? The government doesn’t make these decisions. We shouldn’t start teaching double negatives as acceptable or correct. People need to know the rules of the language to do our best to communicate well. It’s very important. If person A uses a double negative, and Person B questions what was said for clarification, person A needs to understand and be able to clarify. I’m not so bothered that people don’t speak perfectly in every day English, but I am annoyed when I ask for clarification and the other person seems annoyed or pissed I didn’t understand them when they are screwing up the language. Even when people have perfect grammar they can miscommunicate.

It’s more than double negatives, it’s answering in the negative when it should be the affirmative. Like if I ask, “you don’t like tomatoes on your sandwich, right?” And, you answer, “no,” that’s confusing. No you don’t like them? Or, no I’m wrong you do like them?

I know a significant portion of the American population comes from languages where double negatives are correct, but believe me their children born here can easily learn what is correct. People who were born and raised here sound uneducated when they part from standard English constantly while speaking and writing. If the person is an immigrant then I’m completely empathetic. When I speak a foreign language I screw it up in more ways than one.

elbanditoroso's avatar

It shouldn’t not be recognized as normal English.

The thing is, as @JLeslie points out, the US doesn’t have a language authority like France or Israel does. People use words they way they want, and there’s no one to say whether it’s right or wrong.

My impression is that double negatives make a person sound uneducated. All the approvals in the world won’t change my mind.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It is already. It’s recognized as a positive. But it is a very clumsy way of speaking and writing. It is also recognized as a sign of a poor education. Speaking or writing like that won’t fly in professional circles and can hurt a native speaker’s upward mobility at any level. Foreigners are cut some slack. It’s much cleaner to say it properly, to say what you mean cleanly—if you are interested in being understood.

Sneki95's avatar

Yes. It is a well known construction in many English dialects, and everyone is using it already, so it may as well become accepted as the norm.

jca's avatar

It sounds clumsy and I don’t see it being accepted formally any time soon. I was raised that “ain’t” is not a word. I know it’s used in songs but when I hear people use it, it’s usually really informally, almost like a joke.

Another thing I hear people say is “seen” instead of “saw.” “I seen her walking down the street.” Sounds awful.

I agree with @Call_Me_Jay that people judge you on your language just like anything else.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

LOL. My Swedish wife was very well educated and spoke English with an extremely classy British accent. Soon after we arrived here, she had a friend, a very nice person who also was well educated, from the Appalachians. My wife came home one day and used the word “ain’t”. I kept my outward cool, but I was totally freaked out on the inside. It was like someone pissing on a great work of art. I calmly explained to her all the connotations that word carried in American society and she never said it again in a serious way.

She did the same for me when we lived in Sweden. I learned my basic Swedish in a 5 month program. I was a merchant marine on the Baltic. Men talk about women when they are without women. Sailors to the extreme, sometimes using not very nice words. I came home once and, in conversation at the table with friends, used what I thought was the proper word for “vagina”. Silence. My wife calmly explained to me that it was not proper Swedish to use the equivalent of the word “cunt”. Ouch. Everybody laughed, thank god.

LostInParadise's avatar

Although I frown on the use of double negatives, I find it annoying if someone responds to something like, “I didn’t see nobody” with “That means that you did see somebody”. No, it does not, and the need to say so indicates that the true intent was understood. There are languages, Spanish is one (and perhaps other Romance languages?), where the double negative is understood as an intensifier.

JLeslie's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus “It’s recognized as a positive.” Lol. That just cracked me up. It’s the absolute truth, but it’s just funny how this Q is about accepting what should be the positive as the negative. It’s similar to that awful word irregardless. My language skills are very far from perfect, but some mistakes really surprise me.

Even my husband can “hear” when people sound overly ignorant in their command of the English language, and it’s his second language. He makes past tense mistakes, and screws up cute sayings, and doesn’t get prepositions right fairly often (all very common for Spanish speakers) but he still can tell when sentence structure sounds uneducated rather than a grammatical mistake in translation.

It’s interesting to me how this works. Some sort of natural inclination to what sounds “stupid.” I hate to use that word. Sometimes he hears something in speech, and asks me if it’s correct, just for the purposes of learning, but sometimes he comes right out and can pinpoint a person as speaking very poorly throughout their conversation. It’s difficult for him to understand them, especially if their accent is fairly extreme also.

Maybe that’s it? If he has very little clue what they are saying he figures they sound uneducated. Even though he knows he doesn’t speak the language perfectly.

CWOTUS's avatar

The double negative meaning “no”, usually takes an intensifier:

“Hell, no, I don’t want no tomato!”
“I don’t want no fucking tomato!”
But the whole topic reminds me of an illustrative story that I once heard:

One long, sleepy afternoon in a lecture hall, a pedantic professor was going on about double negatives in English, and how a double negative actually does make a positive. In fact, I think that one of his examples was the current one on tomatoes, “No, I don’t want ‘no tomato’ on my burger,” explicitly means that I do desire a slice of tomato on my burger. He continued on, ad nauseum.

Finally, as the class bell was about to ring, he concluded his boring lecture by reminding the class that there was no opposing corollary, that a “double positive” was, in fact, even “more positive” than a single word of agreement. A double positive would never be seen, then, as a negative.

“Yeah, right,” came a voice from the back of the room.

marinelife's avatar

No, she howled in pain.

kritiper's avatar

No. Not never.

kritiper's avatar

“Ain’t” is in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11 th. ed.

Soubresaut's avatar


So, I’m thinking about how there is a certain sense to double negatives—the “no” part of a sentence can be so small, but play such an important role in the meaning of the sentence, that the redundancies, the peppering of the negative throughout the sentence—I imagine that it can aid understanding. “No quiero nada.” To some extent, I can miss some of the sounds and still know the person said “no.”

By contrast, think of “can” and “can’t.” Miss a “t” and “I can’t go” becomes “I can go.” I’ve been in many conversations where someone has to interrupt the flow to clarify whether some said they could or they could not.

But as I typed “I can’t go” and “I can go,” I realized the inflection I would give both sentences is notably different.” That I’ve got what I guess are “positive” and “negative” inflections for sentences. And usually when someone has to clarify, it’s because there was some other distraction, or some other reason they missed the inflection of the sentence. So English does have a redundancy built in, it’s just in the music of the sentence rather than the syllables. (I don’t know other languages well enough to know their inflection patterns. I just know the phrase “no quiero nada.”)

… I must admit, I’m guilty of answering “you don’t like tomatoes on your sandwich, right?” with “no”—short for “no, I don’t”—usually because I’ve started answering before the person adds the “right” at the end. It drives my dad crazy. I always think I inflect my affirming “no” [no, I don’t] and my disagreeing “no” [no, I do too] differently, so I always think I’m clearer than I clearly am.

JLeslie's avatar

^^“No querio nada” is correct.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

“No like nothing” represents one of the biggest problems of direct translation. It’s a problem that so far requires a human touch. Bots still can’t get it right. No quero nada is properly translated as I want nothing. We ain’t got no use fer no double negatives around these here parts, woman.

LOL. No tenemos ningún uso fer no doble negativos alrededor de estas partes aquí, chica.

ragingloli's avatar

No, of course not, and just for suggesting that you should be in prison.

JLeslie's avatar

Quiero. Stupid phone doesn’t know how to spell in Spanish.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^Damn. Well, at least you have an excuse.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Soubresaut , I like your example, but the principle does not always work. If I ask, “Did you see him?”, it is difficult to distinguish “I did see him” from “I didn’t see him”. You can of course avoid this problem by saying “I saw him” or “I did not see him”

LostInParadise's avatar

I did a Web search and found a Wikipedia article on double negatives. Mostly what I was looking for was a list of languages that use them. I was surprised to see Russian included.

JLeslie's avatar

@LostInParadise It’s hard to distinguish “I did see him” from “I didn’t see him?” Why? You mean the “did” might sound like didn’t?

zenvelo's avatar

@LostInParadise But in the course of normal conversation, people don’t answer, “I did see him” unless they are reiterating in response to a requestioning, and then they emphasize the “did”.

“I DID see him!”

LostInParadise's avatar

Or “I DIDN’T see him!”

CWOTUS's avatar

I didn’t see nothing.

DominicY's avatar

In French, double negatives are the standard. “ne” and “pas” both occur in negative statements and they both mean “not”. But they don’t cancel each other out.

Double negatives may become standard if they continue to be used by an increasing number of people. It’s usage that determines what’s “recognized”. For now they remain informal and non-standard.

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