I couldn't not notice.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Alexejkx9, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Alexejkx9 New Member

    Czech - Prague
    They taught us in school that double negative is always wrong. Is it true?

    I'm asking because I came across the sentence "I couldn't not notice.". It sounds right to me
    and Google finds it pretty common as well.

    Is the sentence correct?
    How would you say it without using double negative?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Alex

    Looking at the various google hits for "I couldn't not notice"....

    I wouldn't say "I couldn't not notice" myself.

    I'd say:
    I couldn't fail to notice...
    I couldn't help noticing...
    (less likely)
    I couldn't help but notice...
  3. JJohnson

    JJohnson Senior Member

    Southwest Texas
    Texan English
    It's a way to say "it was too obvious"
    "I couldn't ignore it"
    "I felt awkward but I couldn't say anything"

    And it's really not a double negative.
    I could not not notice means that I did notice (even though I didn't really want to notice). Which is what the writer means to say.
  4. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    The English rule against double negatives is specifically for the case of using one of the negative words "never", "nobody", "nothing", "nowhere" after a verb that has been negated with "not". English teachers stress this rule because many native speakers say things like
    • "I don't see nothing.":cross: (Should be "I don't see anything.":tick:)
    • "They're not talking to nobody.":cross: ("They're not talking to anybody.":tick:)
    "I couldn't not notice" is a little awkward (takes more time for the listener to process), but it's not grammatically wrong (in my opinion).
  5. mplsray Senior Member

    Cenzontle said that "The English rule against double negatives is specifically for the case of using one of the negative words 'never', 'nobody', 'nothing', 'nowhere' after a verb that has been negated with 'not'." To be specific, the type of negation prohibited in standard speech is one in which two or more negative words are used to make a single negation.

    Terminology varies on what constitutes a "double negative" or "double negation." Some authorities specifically say that "She is not unbeautiful." is an example of a grammatically standard "double negative," and some would identify your example sentence as a grammatically standard "double negative." Others take pains to avoid the term "double negative" to describe these sorts of sentences. Some would speak of a sentence such as "I didn't see nobody nohow" (standard version: I [emphatically] saw nobody.") as an example of a "double negative" while others would prefer the term "multiple negative."

    Linguist Geoff Pullum took a look at "double negative/double negation" a few years ago when he was working on The Cambridge Grammar of English. He mentions in an interview ("Giving up on Double Negation," transcript here) that "I have actually found it in use for ten different grammatical phenomena." (I expect that this includes some examples not used in English, but I don't know that for a fact.) He makes the following point:

    The term linguists use for this type of negation is "negative concord." In some languages and in some nonstandard dialects of English it is grammatical, while in other languages and in standard dialects of English it is ungrammatical.

    "I couldn't not notice." is a standard negation of "I could not notice." It thus is not an example of negative concord.
  6. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    "I couldn't not notice" is certainly not proper English (perfectly good constructions are suggested by Loob in post #2), but we do occasionally say it in AE, with strong emphasis on the word "not" and in reference to quite unusual situations:

    Did you notice that fellow running naked down the middle of Broadway?

    I couldn't not notice! (or: How could I not notice?)
  7. boozer Senior Member

    Excellent suggestions indeed! I would definitely say the first one myself.

    However, as you observe, Alexe, your sentence does not sound wrong to me either. Parla could say it in AE, I could say it in the manner described by her as well and I do not think there is any BE-AE difference here. E.g.
    A. The cheese was in the fridge all along, right there in front of you, but you simply didn't notice it, did you...
    B. Quite to the contrary, I couldn't not notice it considering its horrible stink but that is not the cheese I was looking for. :D
  8. mplsray Senior Member

    If you equate "proper" with "standard," then I have to disagree with you. The sentence "I couldn't not notice!"—and I agree that not is emphasized in speech and this emphasis should be represented in writingis perfectly grammatical in standard English dialects.

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