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    I Don't Need No Stinkin' Double Negatives

    A couple of years ago, a teen flick came out -- Can't Hardly Wait -- that starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry.

    While the film was amusing, pulled all the right strings and made teeny-boppers cheer on, its title is a case of bad grammar.

    Yup, saying, "I can't hardly wait" is bad grammar.


    Because it's a double negative.

    Consider this sentence: "I don't want no sympathy from you."

    Now, let's assume that the person who said the above statement really doesn't want any sympathy. But the sentence implies that what the person doesn't want is no sympathy -- which means, he or she wants sympathy. However which way you look at the sentence, it is grammatically incorrect.

    If the person doesn't want any sympathy, he/she should say it either:

    I don't want sympathy from you.


    I want no sympathy from you.

    The subtle double negatives

    Writers and speakers who always strive to write or speak correct English have less problem on double negatives. However, some words used in a negative sense are not recognized as negatives right away. They are sometimes combined with another negative and form a subtle double negative.

    Here is a list of these subtle negatives:

    • seldom
    • but (used as "only">
    • just
    • merely
    • barely
    • hardly
    • except
    • only
    • scarcely
    • neither
    • ever
    • rarely
    • nothing
    • nowhere

    And here are examples of the use of double negatives:

    1. Bad grammar: He can't hardly wait for his present to arrive.
      Good grammar: He can hardly wait for his present to arrive.

    2. Bad grammar: They didn't hardly have enough food left.
      Good grammar: They hardly have enough food left.

    3. Bad grammar: She isn't but a homeless little girl.
      Good grammar: She is but a homeless little girl.

    4. Bad grammar: They seldom ever visit us.
      Good grammar: They seldom visit us.

    5. Bad grammar: Because of illness, he just merely weighs one hundred and ten pounds.
      Good grammar: Because of his illness, he weighs merely one hundred and ten pounds.

    Writing activity

    Ok, now it's your turn to transform sentences with double negatives into grammatically correct sentences:

    1. You aren't barely old enough to live on your own.
    2. Why can't you hardly wait for your parents to pick you up?
    3. She was so disappointed because she couldn't go neither.
    4. My father had to sell our car because he didn't scarcely have enough money anymore.
    5. I have so much to do that I haven't ever got time to rest.
    6. You aren't but a minority.
    7. She just merely recalled how poor they used to be.
    8. The new accountant hasn't worked here except three months.
    9. The blanket didn't barely protect their shivering bodies.
    10. Her daughters seldom ever visit her at the hospital.

    Copyright © 2001 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ

    Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ creates and teaches free e-mail courses for writers at Sign up for a class today.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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