The Double Negative as in “I didn’t do nothing”

REMEMBER:

GREEN for RIGHT
RED for WRONG

WHY IS THERE A PROBLEM?

The message gets lost in the words that are used. In effect, the denial turns into an admission.

There is a tendency to say

I didn’t do nothing

instead of

I did nothing

or

I didn’t do anything

EXPLANATION of RULE:

didn’t = a no = a negative
nothing = a no = a negative

In this example, we have two negatives in the one sentence – I didn’t do nothing – whereas the speaker’s intention was to indicate just one negative, which was to deny any hand, act or part in whatever had occurred. In each of the two green sentences above, the intention is clear and unambiguous. I did nothing = one negative (nothing)

I didn’t do anything = one negative (didn’t)

The speaker is absolving him / herself from any blame in the event of any accusation coming his / her way.

USAGE:

We didn’t do nothing.
We did nothing. / We didn’t do anything.

He didn’t see no one.
He saw no one. / He didn’t see anyone.

She didn’t tell nobody.
She told no body. / She didn’t tell anybody.

It wasn’t no easy thing to do.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do / It was a hard / difficult thing to do.

I can’t do no more training.
I can do no more training. / I can’t do any more training.

QUICK REVISION:

The old saying about two negatives making one positive applies in this case. Just one no answer is sufficient in a sentence. Keep it short and simple. Whilst I didn’t do anything is perfect English, I did nothing means the exact same, is shorter and, accordingly, suits today’s style of using vocabulary.

TEST:

Write these sentences with only one negative.

1. I didn’t see nothing.     _    _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
2. He didn’t hear nothing.    _ _    _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
3. She didn’t touch nothing.     _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
4. We didn’t break nothing.    _ _    _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
5. They didn’t steal nothing.     _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
6. Mary wouldn’t take nothing.     _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
7. Tony wouldn’t sue nobody.     _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _  _.
8. Jim wouldn’t hurt nobody.    _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
9. Lil wouldn’t frighten no one.    _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _    _ _ _.
10. Carl wouldn’t lose no money.    _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _ _   _    _ _ _ _     _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _.

ANSWERS:

1. I saw nothing.
2. He heard nothing.
3. She touched nothing.
4. We broke nothing.
5. They didn’t steal anything.
6. Mary wouldn’t take anything.
7. Tony wouldn’t sue anybody.
8. Jim wouldn’t hurt anybody.
9. Lil wouldn’t frighten any one.
10. Carl wouldn’t lose any money.

KEY ELEMENT OF LESSON:

As soon as the word not is used, there’s no need to use a second no word such as nothing, nobody, etc., to support the first not word.

DON’T FORGET:

I did nothing.

or

I didn’t do anything.


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