a double negative

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pasitoo

Senior Member
Spanish
Hello,
"Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily birds." if put in the other perspective, can I say "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds." ?
Thank you !:)
 
  • Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Negatives in language do not mean the same thing as negatives in math. You can add a nuance of meaning with negatives.

    For example:

    She was not fat, nor was she thin; she was not tall, nor was she short; she was not brilliant, nor was she stupid; in fact in all matters she was quite ordinary.

    If language treated negatives as math did, then "not fat" would mean "thin" and "not tall" would mean "short". But "not" in this case is not the same as it would be in math; it is not a true negative.

    If you mean that "Those with wing might be birds or might not be birds" then I am OK with your double negative. I'm not sure I would phrase it quite like that, but if your meaning is clear it is fine.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello,
    "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily birds." if put in the other perspective, can I say "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds." ?
    Thank you !:)
    Well... yes.

    Those [objects] with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily birds. {implication: they could be planes. Or angels.}

    Those [objects] with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds. {implication: they are not necessarily planes or angels. They could be birds}

    But it really isn't a good idea to play about with double negatives too much, unless you are doing it for a specific - literary or humorous - purpose. They make comprehension much more difficult for the reader/listener.

    The easiest form of double negative is probably "not un-": he is not unattractive. Two nots in a row are much more difficult to process:(
     

    magicaltrevor

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    In spoken (informal) english, the double negative can be used simply to reinforce the negative, for example:

    "I haven't done nothing" can be used to mean the same as "I haven't done anything"
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The double negative adds nuance. Consider this dialog (names changed to protect the innocent):

    1. Peter [speaking hopefully]: Lulu, one day you will fall into my loving embrace.

    2. Lulu [haughtily]: No! Never!

    3. Peter [pained]: No! Not never! Please not never!

    4. Lulu [coyly]: Well, maybe not never, but not soon either.

    5. Peter [relieved]: At least it is not never.

    In line 2 Lulu is not negating "never" she is emphasizing it.

    In line 3 Peter's "not never" is meaning he won't accept "never" as an answer.

    In line 4 Lulu's "not never" has the "not" modifying "never"; not negating it.

    In line 5 Peter is relieved that she has modified "never" with "not" to mean some time in the future, but not soon. His not negates "never".
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    In spoken (informal) english, the double negative can be used simply to reinforce the negative, for example:

    "I haven't done nothing" can be used to mean the same as "I haven't done anything"

    I completely disagree with this statement. We are not so much in double negative territory as in bad grammar.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I completely disagree with this statement. We are not so much in double negative territory as in bad grammar.

    Double negatives still resulting in a negative are present everywhere, it may be a divergence from Standard English but it's perfectly grammatical in many many many forms of English. People don't assume "I haven't done nothing" means "I have done something", they recognise the intended meaning. Or for example in phrases like "You aint seen nothing yet" are fine according to a lot of people, not in the standard language but quite acceptable.

    (My essential point is that things that don't conform aren't necessarily bad / wrong versions of a standard these people should subscribe to, rather the accurate and grammatical forms of their own version of English that doesn't happen to be the same as what is considered Standard English around the world).
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I completely disagree with this statement. We are not so much in double negative territory as in bad grammar.
    And I in turn disagree with Spira. "I haven't done nothing" = "I haven't done anything" is not bad grammar; it's non-standard grammar. It's correct in some non-standard varieties of English.

    EDIT: I hadn't seen Alx's post 7 at the time of writing. But I wholeheartedly agree with him:).
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    "I haven't done nothing" is ....correct in some non-standard varieties of English. Excuse me?
    It would only be correct if it were referring to someone defending himself against accusations that he had done nothing.

    I ain't done nothing yet is a great song, but atrocious grammar.
    I don't believe you even think it is acceptable grammar anywhere in the native-English World.
    However, I recognise completely its sense, and I know it is said frequently.

    Don't make it rite tho!

    << Off topic chat deleted by moderator. >>
     
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    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    "I haven't done nothing" is ....correct in some non-standard varieties of English. Excuse me?
    I ain't done nothing yet is a great song, but atrocious grammar.
    I don't believe you even think it is acceptable grammar anywhere in the native-English World.
    However, I recognise completely its sense, and I know it is said frequently.
    Don't make it rite tho!

    <<...>>

    Seems to me we can argue this all day long. In terms of strict grammar, yes, it is wrong to say I didn't do nothing, but it is true that it is said this way for emphasis. We can get away with it, unless it is said in front of the English teacher!
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Seems to me we can argue this all day long. In terms of strict grammar, yes, it is wrong to say I didn't do nothing, but it is true that it is said this way for emphasis. We can get away with it, unless it is said in front of the English teacher!

    My point exactly !!

    (although to be perfectly honest, I couldn't have got away with it in front of my parents, and my kids couldn't in front of me! And if I said it in front of my friends, I think I'd sound like some pretentious, would-be honky-tonk dude) :)
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    "I haven't done nothing" is ....correct in some non-standard varieties of English. Excuse me?
    It would only be correct if it were referring to someone defending himself against accusations that he had done nothing.

    I ain't done nothing yet is a great song, but atrocious grammar.
    I don't believe you even think it is acceptable grammar anywhere in the native-English World.
    However, I recognise completely its sense, and I know it is said frequently.

    Don't make it rite tho!

    PS Loob, if I told you the moon circled around the Earth and not the other way round, would you manage to agree with me?

    You dispute the fact that "I haven't done nothing" is correct in some nonstandard varieties of English.

    I challenge you to find a quote from a modern linguist who would agree with you.

    Every dialect of every language has rules, and in some nonstandard dialects of English, "I haven't done nothing" is in complete accord with the rules of grammar. That is, it is grammatically correct in those dialects.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But this question has been typically hijacked and become less interesting than the original question.

    Should Pasitoo say "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds."? I'd advise against it, not because it's the man in the pub's That's never no bird, but because you risk not being understood.

    It's well known that once you include several negatives in a sentence you run the risk of cognitive collapse. This is illustrated by the famous sentence, No head injury is too unimportant to be ignored, which doesn't mean All head injuries should be taken seriously.

    Also there's a difference between being not necessarily being not birds and necessarily being birds, and I doubt if it's a distinction which is being made in the OP. I'd advise keeping such statements as clear as possible, and the suggestion that you can add negatives here and there without altering the sense of a sentence is dangerous in the extreme. The man in the pub's double negative needs to be handled within its own register and limits.
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    But this question has been typically hijacked and become less interesting than the original question.

    Should Pasitoo say "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds."? I'd advise against it, not because it's the man in the pub's That's never no bird, but because you risk not being understood.

    It's well known that once you include several negatives in a sentence you run the risk of cognitive collapse. This is illustrated by the famous sentence, No head injury is too unimportant to be ignored, which doesn't mean All head injuries should be taken seriously.

    Also there's a difference between being not necessarily being not birds and necessarily being birds, and I doubt if it's a distinction which is being made in the OP. I'd advise keeping such statements as clear as possible, and the suggestion that you can add negatives here and there without altering the sense of a sentence is dangerous in the extreme. The man in the pub's double negative needs to be handled within its own register and limits.

    Well, I certainly can't deny you aren't wrong on that point! :D
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    But this question has been typically hijacked and become less interesting than the original question.

    Should Pasitoo say "Those with wings flying in the sky are not necessarily not birds."? I'd advise against it, not because it's the man in the pub's That's never no bird, but because you risk not being understood.

    I agree. I've pointed out in the past (including, I believe, in this forum) that it is not negative concord which causes confusion, but standard multiple negation. Most (perhaps all?) native speakers of English have no problem understanding that a sentence such as "I didn't see nothing," when spoken with ordinary inflection, is equivalent to "I didn't see anything." But complicate standard speech and writing with more than one negative word or particle and the risk of confusion begins. Even a standard negation such as "I did not see nothing," with nothing emphasized and the intended meaning being "I did indeed see something" will likely cause confusion in some listeners.
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    I agree. I've pointed out in the past (including, I believe, in this forum) that it is not negative concord which causes confusion, but standard multiple negation. Most (perhaps all?) native speakers of English have no problem understanding that a sentence such as "I didn't see nothing," when spoken with ordinary inflection, is equivalent to "I didn't see anything." But complicate standard speech and writing with more than one negative word or particle and the risk of confusion begins. Even a standard negation such as "I did not see nothing," with nothing emphasized and the intended meaning being "I did indeed see something" will likely cause confusion in some listeners.

    Where I live in the pacific southwest, it is very common to hear Hispanics from either side of the border say "I didn't see nothing". It carries over from Spanish where it is acceptable grammar. I have often wondered why we have an injunction on it. If I can understand it in Spanish without confusion, why should it be different in English??

    I don't think the rule will ever change, but acceptance of the usage obviously already has.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Every dialect of every language has rules, and in some nonstandard dialects of English, "I haven't done nothing" is in complete accord with the rules of grammar. That is, it is grammatically correct in those dialects.

    I agree, every colony, every inner-city project, every slum suburb, bastardises the local language and has its own dialect.
    It still doesn't make it correct, though, until a long time passes and it's absorbed into the accepted and acceptable language.
    We're not there yet in standard English on "I ain't got no problem", or "I ain't done nuffink".
    Shall we resume in 2065? :)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In spoken (informal) english, the double negative can be used simply to reinforce the negative, for example:

    "I haven't done nothing" can be used to mean the same as "I haven't done anything"
    If you read the many threads on this topic you will see a clear theme emerging.

    Double negatives like "I haven't done nothing" are ungrammatical in mainstream English. They should be avoided by learners.

    Within some, indeed many, contexts they are normal.
    Those who use them understand them perfectly and understand how to use them.

    They are so common that it is useful for students of English to be aware of their structure and how to interpret what, at first, appears to be their illogicality.

    This thread has wandered much too far from the original theme and has therefore been closed.
    There are other threads where this specific topic has been discussed, again and again :)
     
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