1. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    Double Negatives

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by aimi_aiko, Apr 13, 2011.

    Well, I have to say that I have a huge pet peeve when it comes to usage of "double negatives".

    (I happened to hear someone use one today, and it has been itching at me ever since)

    I thought I'd bring this thread up. Obviously, double negatives are never okay. They aren't okay in speech, writing, literature, etc.

    What are you thoughts of the excessive usage of double negatives?
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Things like "I ain't no idiot, I just don't know nothing about grammar"?

    Works fine in dialogue for local hillbilly mechanics, I guess. If it was in the narrative of a novel, I'd scratch my head and wonder.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I am against excessive use of anything in writing. Is there really a need to debate positions on the matter?

    By definition, excessive means too much.

    Clearly, dialogue is dialogue. If your character is prone to using double negatives, his or her dialogue will contain the occasional double negative.

    Also note that the prohibition against double negatives is a convention in English, but in other languages, such as Spanish, it can be perfectly correct. Someone who is not a native speaker of English may use double negatives, yet not be a "hillbilly."
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    agreed...
     
  5. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    I share your sense of outrage! Amongst commoners, the use of the double negative is not uncommon.
     
  6. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    I'd say that it's like everything else; when used sparingly for style, it's perfectly fine.

    There are also certain cases where you might need to show the extreme in order to illustrate the moderate. For instance:

    "He didn't not like it, it just wasn't something that he was interested in."

    In that instance, the reader will -- with any luck -- stress the "not" and realize that the character doesn't have strong feelings about the subject either way. By including the double negative instead of just saying "He wasn't interested in it." You're creating a moment of tension in the character's mind where he gives it some consideration before just dismissing it altogether.

    At least, that's how I would read it. You might feel differently.
     
  7. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Agreed, wholeheartedly. I'm pretty sure even in some non-"hillbilly" dialects of English, double negatives are considered fine. Heck, sometimes I myself or my friends use double negative for emphasis or comedic/sarcastic purposes. If it fits a character's dialogue (or their style of narration in a first person POV), then there ain't nothing wrong about using it.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    When used incorrectly, to confuse meaning and hinder communication, then I agree. There are plenty of times when they're used properly to convey the exact message the writer or speaker is trying to convey:

    Did you feed the cat?

    Well, I didn't specifically NOT feet the cat. So no, I didn't pour a bowl of food, but the cat happened to get into the bird cage, so the cat was fed. (oh no, there's passive construction, eeeep!)

    Or, what if you're explaining you didn't unlike someone's post on Facebook? How do you not make that into a double negative, as the term is a negative in itself, and if someone asks if you unliked their message, saying you liked it wouldn't be accurate or informative, since you can't like the same post twice until you unlike it! And if you didn't unlike it....
     
  9. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    I don't think any grammar rule is this strict. You can think of a situation in which a particular thing is not just 'Okay' but Better then the alternative, for almost any single rule breakege.
    TheIllustratedMan's example in particular is not something that a reader would even look at as wrong at a book, whair as a [grammatically correct] alternative may look contrived and awkward.

    I contend that we don't have grammar Rules , only grammar Guidlines .
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Nah, there are definitely grammar rules, it's just any competent linguist will point out how those rules have, at times, little bearing on actually language or communication. Basically, there are rules, it's just they're descriptive, not prescriptive. And while people are influenced by those rules (or if you want to call them guidelines, same principles apply), tomorrows grammar rules are being shaped right now, by people using the language.

    Basically, if you're talking about communication, and not just the study of communication, then it's almost always pointless to ask what the 'right' way to communicate is, and instead what the most effective way may be. Of course, there is a lot of crossover between these two things, but the 'right' way isn't always consciously informing the most effective ways, but instead other people are through their understand and interaction while communicating, which of course a writer needs to be tapped into and to some degree anticipate since we're starting a conversation at times years in advance.
     
  11. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    For dialogue it's okay. Shows the personality of the character you're trying to portray.
     
  12. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    Well yes, but the point was they are not rules in the traditional 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' sense, to be followed absolutely and at all times, they are more like guidelines.

    Also I think it's important to beware of pseudo-rules, Rules that while out dated or never followed, are still called rules by some people often very vocally.
    Attempting to apply pseudo-rules in writing often results in a noticeable loss in quality.
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The point I was making is from a linguistics perspective, despite some people calling them guidelines, they really aren't, because guidelines inform future action, and grammar or language rules are actually describing what has occurred previously (what rules the communicators seemed to be following that created their language system).

    English educators often call them grammar rules, because they ARE trying to (usually ineffectively, according to research) instruct in a precise, not-just-guidelines manner and teach how one ought to write to write properly (the failing being that language is changing even as a grammarian is trying to teach its rules, lol).

    And for a writer, neither perspective is really helpful, as writing is more to do with the point-of-contact communication, that isn't beholden to these rules, even if you call them guidelines, in any way more so than a speaker is. We learn to communicate, linguists try to figure out why and how we said something yesterday, grammarians try to teach us what is 'right' today, and meanwhile fiction is more like a conversation, where the only thing that really matters is how effectively we're communicating.

    Why I believe most fiction-writing related grammar questions shouldn't be 'is this right' because it may not be tomorrow, or it may be right and still poor communication. People get hung up on the 'right or wrong' aspect of grammar questions, but the important question is more along the lines of 'am I making sense' which isn't necessarily beholden to the 'rightness' of the grammar, though can obviously correlate.

    Learning grammar and learning to communicate effectively, much less to the effectiveness required in fiction writing, are often two very different things.
     
  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seeing this kind of double negaties in text makes I can't help but thinking about if two negatives equal a positive. in other words two no's equals a yes. Two minuses equals a plus. It must be math class sticking to my mind after all these years, lol.

    Hahaha, that made me laugh out loud! :D I will remember that phrase to cheer me up when I feel low!
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    pops is right about guide vs guidlines...
     
  16. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    I see your point, and I agree. I was looking at the grammar rules they way they are taught in English classes, in the present [and future] tense, but as you point out they should be thought of in the past tense.

    Exactly.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ain't no reason to be afraid of the occasional double negative.

    Just don't go crazy with them.
     
  18. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    You're forgetting the part of math class where you did logic. Not less than means either equal to or greater than. Not equal to means either less than or greater than. Not negative means either positive or zero. So a double negative CAN be used to illustrate the neutral state. Just because you don't not like something doesn't mean that you like it. And vice versa. (Note that I just made a grammatic error for effect. That's an example of the whole "rules" vs "guidelines" thing, and what Cogito says above: just don't overdo it.)
     
  19. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I have a character who uses them once every few chapters (I didn't really count but I'm estimating) because that's one of his traits. Wheneve the chapter is in his point of view, he'd use it every so often in exposition as well.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Double negatives (to indicate a negative) are not standard English. They aren't ok in standard English speech, writing, literature, etc. But if the speech isn't supposed to be standard English there's nothing at all the matter with them. The person you heard using a double negative wasn't doing anything "wrong" unless you think that standard English should be mandated for all language communities. They were presumably using the language of their particular community quite correctly.
     
  21. prisonchild
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    prisonchild Member

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    like some people have already stated, i think it's a little shortsighted to write off double negatives entirely, instead you can try and use them creatively and as long as they fit the overall sense of the writing then it can't be a bad thing, right?
     
  22. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    That was actually meant as a joke. :rolleyes: But no, I don't remember that math class :redface: Math was never my favourite subject. Swedish was, though. AND english. All classes with languages was my favs.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you multiply. On the other hand, if you add then two minuses make a minus.
     
  24. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The way I look at it is "Is it effective?" Followed immediately by "Could it be made more effective?"
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aaarrghh :eek: :D ;)
     

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