Saturday, October 13, 2012

Double Negative: Can't Hardly, Barely, Scarcely

Jack writes:
My ELA teacher said to avoid using double negatives. What does that mean and can you please give some examples?
Sure thing, Jack.

Two negative expressions in the same sentence is a double negative. The two negatives usually cancel each other out and you end up with a net positive—the opposite of what the writer intended.

Most people will easily recognize the double negative in the following sentences: I don't care about nobody. You don't never see that these days. The easy fix is to change the second negative to a positive: I don't care about anybody. You don't ever see that these days.

Watch out for words like scarcely, barely, less and hardly, which also convey a negativity.

  • A quote from Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals: “There were times I was so nervous I couldn’t hardly see straight."
From New America Media:
  • “I'm losing weight and I can't hardly think,” Smith said.

  • There were times I was so nervous I could hardly see straight.
  • I'm losing weight and I can hardly think.

Writing Tip: In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White recommended putting statements in the positive form. This helps you avoid the double negative altogether, and it almost always makes your writing more clear and sharp. Try it!

She was not very often kind. >> She was often mean.

Joshua did not think that studying music was good way to spend his time. >> Joshua thought that studying music was a waste of his time.

Mrs. Sullivan didn't think the girls would finish on time. >> Mrs. Sullivan thought the girls would finish late.


  1. i did'nt not hardly know that, i am more gooder at riteing than i was afore

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  3. the best "grammar" help would be to those who put "r" in spoken words that are not spelled with or have an "r" in their syntax ie. Austrailur, idear,

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  5. Probably such kind of the ideas can be seen among the students and in fact they must need to improve every possible fact in this regard to proceed further.