EN: don't + verb + no X [sic] - double negation

Athrun

Member
French
Hello,

I wanted to know if there was any difference between :

"We don't need birth control"
"We don't need no birth control"


Thanks by advance ;)

Moderator note: Multiple threads merged to create this one.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • toban

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    The former could be translated as "Nous n'avons pas besoin de..."

    The latter could be translated as "On n'a pas besoin d'aucun..."

    Although most grammarians would deem the double negative incorrect, it is used informally by some people to strengthen the meaning. So, despite the logical conclusion that the two negatives make a positive, people who use this construct usually mean the latter to be an emphatic version of the former. Tone of voice and syllable stress make the meaning clear when it's spoken, but it could cause confusion when written.
     

    ultravioleta

    Senior Member
    Castellano (español)
    They are conflicting judgments:

    Nous n'avons pas besoin de contrôle des naissances.

    Nous n'avons pas besoin d'arrêter le contrôle des naissances
     

    Athrun

    Member
    French
    Thanks tobian and ultravioleta for answering me.

    Thanks toban this really helped me.

    However ultravioleta, I'm not sure your translation for the latter is proper ..

    What you wrote means in English "we don't need to stop birth control" and not "we don't need no birth control".

    "we don't need no birth control" precisely means that we can stop the use of birth control because we don't need it anymore.


    Thanks anyway ;)
     

    Lacuzon

    Senior Member
    French - France
    We don't need no thought control ;)

    I guess We do not need no means Nous n'avons besoin d'aucun, nous n'avons aucun besoin de no ?
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Let's be very clear to prevent misunderstandings, here.

    This double negation is (very) colloquial, and is condemned across the board in proper written English... by "grammarians" and by the grammatically uninitiated alike. Although it is not uncommon in some regional speech patterns, and although it can be used as a deliberate stylistic choice on occasion, it is widely considered a sign of uneducated speech. A non-native who is learning English should avoid the double negative. If you wish to emphasize your negation (such as described by Toban in post #2 above), add the word "any."

    Nous n'avons pas besoin d'X.
    -->
    We don't need X.

    Nous n'avons aucun besoin, vraiment pas besoin d'X ; Nous n'avons besoin d'aucun X.
    --> We don't need no X. :cross: We don't need any X. :tick:

    Nous n'avons pas besoin de ne pas avoir X. (donc, nous avons besoin d'X)
    --> We don't need no X (seulement à l'orale, accent tonique très marqué sur le mot "no" pour différencier de la double négation fautive, où l'accent serait sur le mot "X"... et souvent suivi d'une déclaration de la quantité d'X dont on a besoin).
     
    Last edited:

    gquixote

    Senior Member
    English
    I tend to disagree with Toban actually. Rather than strengthening or emphasising the negation, adding the word "no" before birth control simply renders the tone more slangy and the grammar incorrect.

    I agree with jann. One might use the words "any birth control whatsoever," for further emphasis.
     

    Machlii5

    Senior Member
    German
    Maybe it helps to think of the song “We Don't Need No Education“ by Pink Floyd - the second stanza goes “we don't need no thought control“.
    The double negation clearly indicates lack of education.
     

    toban

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    I'm surprised how hard it is to find previous threads on the use of a double negative! In terms of language register, I would put "don't need no" at about the same level as "ain't." It is informal, and if you use it regularly, you will likely be perceived as uneducated. That's not to say that there aren't educated individuals who use the double negative for effect.

    I agree that "don't need no" is inappropriate for formal academic writing. It can be appropriate in written forms that mirror informal spoken English, like in novels or Internet chat. And, although gquixote does not see the extra "no" as adding emphasis, I believe it to be the case in informal situations, at least in American English.

    Jann recommended that people learning English avoid "don't need no." Indeed, most language learners need to develop a good understanding of the formal register before using informal language. A language learner may be misunderstood if they use informal language inappropriately. Before using informal language, it's important to understand both how it works grammatically and the appropriate social context for using it.

    In addition, syllable stress is key when using this type of construct. "We don't need no x" will likely be understood as an informal version of "we don't need any x," whereas "we don't need no x" sounds like it should be followed by "we need more of it!"
     

    Twoflower

    Member
    UK, English
    jann, you need to re-read Machlii5's post, since your reply just explains Machlii5's own point back to him!

    The phrase "We don't need no birth control" is without doubt a simple pun on Pink Floyd's famous lyrics. It is not an example of how to use English, nor would you ever see that formulation in written English, if not for the cultural reference.

    A learner of English should never use a double negative; indeed the writer of this sentence probably never uses them either, except when quoting iconic 70s music lyrics.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    jann, you need to re-read Machlii5's post, since your reply just explains Machlii5's own point back to him!

    The phrase "We don't need no birth control" is without doubt a simple pun on Pink Floyd's famous lyrics. It is not an example of how to use English, nor would you ever see that formulation in written English, if not for the cultural reference.
    Please don't accuse me of failing to read Machlii5's post carefully. :) She cited Pink Floyd and said that the double negation in question clearly indicates lack of education. I respectfully disagree. I feel that Pink Floyd's usage is not uneducated. Instead it is deliberately ironic, as is any reference to those lyrics. This is what I tried to clarify. I don't understand why you feel I am explaining her own comment back to her. :confused:

    The reference to Pink Floyd seems obvious to those of us who know the famous song (Lacuzon also pointed it out in post #6)... and this is why I mentioned the possibility of a deliberate stylistic choice back in post #7. However, we have absolutely no context from the author of this thread, and therefore we cannot possibly know whether or not "we don't need no birth control" is phrased that way in reference to Pink Floyd, or because it is dialogue and shows how some character speaks, or because of some doubt or confusion in Athrun's mind as he tries to learn English as a foreign language. :p
     

    Machlii5

    Senior Member
    German
    She cited Pink Floyd and said that the double negation in question clearly indicates lack of education. I respectfully disagree. I feel that Pink Floyd's usage is not uneducated.
    Hi, maybe I should have written “is there to indicate...“ in order not to be misunderstood. Of course the “we“ in the song doesn't refer to Pink Floyd themselves but to those youngsters who feel restricted by the expectations of society.
    If I hadn't been in a hurry while posting I might also have mentioned the anecdote of the salesman trying to peddle dictionaries and grammar books in rural America in the 1930s - when he was told “We don't need no grammar book“ he answered “Sir, you most certainly do!" ;)
     

    RobinL

    Member
    UK English (London)
    This double negation is (very) colloquial, and is condemned across the board in proper written English... by "grammarians" and by the grammatically uninitiated alike. Although it is not uncommon in some regional speech patterns, and although it can be used as a deliberate stylistic choice on occasion, it is widely considered a sign of uneducated speech. A non-native who is learning English should avoid the double negative. If you wish to emphasize your negation (such as described by Toban in post #2 above), add the word "any."
    This is exactly right. Where I grew up the double negative was probably used by 50-75% of speakers (rural Somerset in South-West of England) - it was extremely common.

    I now work in London as a civil servant and I can't remember the last time I heard it being used in serious conversation!

    So although you shouldn't use it, don't be surprised if you come across it. In some regions it is used very widely. But as pointed out, it is perceived by many to be an indicator or poor education.
     

    dotdotdot1

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Despite appearances, the construction "We don't need no birth control" is colloquial and isn't a double negative. "No" is synonymous with "any" here, and is not a negation. Having said that, this construction is considered low-class and improper, so you probably shouldn't try and use it yourself.

    The double negative "version" of the sentence is "We don't not need birth control." Standard English speakers occasionally say this kind of thing but under normal circumstances the sentence should be traded for its less complicated equivalent, "We need birth control," to ease comprehension.

    Good luck. :)
     

    brascooo

    Senior Member
    French
    Hi again,

    I was skeptical of the sentences' rightness using double negative but while watching tv series I bumped into them several times.
    The latest one was "We don't want no cat". Is that correct ? What would be different with "We don't want a cat " ?

    Thank in advance for helping! :)
     

    RuK

    Senior Member
    English/lives France
    " We don't want no cat " is
    slang
    dialect
    regional speech
    or any other politically correct description for "non-standard, non-grammatical, incorrect". People definitely do speak this way. And other people understand them. But it's not educated English. We don't want a cat, we don't want any cats.
     

    PetitPainFrais

    Banned
    Deutsch - Großherzogtum Luxemburg
    I don't want no scrub

    coucou.
    J'ai cette chanson dans ma tête et je me demande pourquoi l'on rajoute le "no" avant scrub ? Sachant qu'il y a déjà do + not.
    Ou alors cela pourrait être un raccourci pour "no more" ?

    merci
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Donaldos

    Senior Member
    French - France
    I don't want no scrub
    ou alors cela pourrait être un raccourci pour "no more" ?
    no more ne serait pas davantage acceptable en anglais "standard".

    Certains locuteurs emploient en revanche communément plusieurs négations dans une même phrase, le sens de celle-ci restant clairement positif.

    Les paroles de chansons en fournissent de multiples illustrations :

    We don't need no education (Pink Floyd)

    I don't need no bitch (Snoop Dogg)

    Ain't no sunshine when she's gone ♬ (Bill Withers)

    Ain't no mountain high enough (Diana Ross)

    I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more. ♪ (Bob Dylan)​

    etc.
     

    ReactionD

    Member
    English - Received Pronunciation
    " We don't want no cat " is
    slang
    dialect
    regional speech
    or any other politically correct description for "non-standard, non-grammatical, incorrect". People definitely do speak this way. And other people understand them. But it's not educated English. We don't want a cat, we don't want any cats.
    Okay. Could you tell me why they still speak like this, given the fact that it is non-standard?
     

    ReactionD

    Member
    English - Received Pronunciation
    Exactly. I saw that before, but I thought that wasn't entirely true because I had just read the lyrics of a certain Clean Bandit song with some double negatives on it. Long story short, her answer makes sense now. Thank you!
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    SwissPete

    Senior Member
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    Lyrics are notorious for using non-standard language.
    I expect this to be true of English and other languages.
     

    ReactionD

    Member
    English - Received Pronunciation
    Well, I have noticed this but didn't know it was deliberate. Thanks for letting me know. I now have to start looking for musicians who sing only with proper English.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top