double negative: couldn't not


Senior Member

When I heard something really bad and I felt hurt, so I say, "I couldn't not feel hurt after hearing that." meaning "I couldn't hear that without feeling hurt." Does the sentence in bold sound natural at all?

Thank you.
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    People will understand this as a humorous way to express the idea: I couldn't not take an offer like that = I just had to take that offer. I'd choose a more straightforward way to express something I felt strongly about:
    "I couldn't stand to hear it" or "It hurt me to hear it".
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    British English
    "I couldn't not feel hurt after hearing that."

    This is an excellent way of expressing yourself, especially in response to someone who thinks you are over-reacting to what you heard. It is equivalent to saying, 'any reasonable person would feel hurt by that'.

    This double negative - 'couldn't not' - is primarily used when something really good is presented to the person, and it is too good to turn down, too good to just let go.

    My car dealer sent me a letter. Mazda would pay me the going trade-in value for my car, and deduct another £5,000 off the price for a new one. So, I could get a brand new car for £6,000. It was an offer too good to refuse/ I couldn't not snap it up.

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Personally I prefer the possibly more literary formula I couldn't but feel hurt after hearing that.

    Here's a modern use of it

    Watching Slumdog Millionaire, I couldn't but be reminded of the cheapness and utter emptiness of the Indian middle-class's hysterical reaction to the recent events in Mumbai. (Source)