Just say “no” to double negatives

Writers and editors know to avoid double negatives in formal writing.

You would probably scramble to correct a sentence like this on your company website: “The facility will not allow no more visitors after 10 p.m.” However, double negatives still exist.

The sentence below came from a press release sent by a federal agency:

“It is not uncommon for a firm, based on its own appropriate evaluation of potential suppliers and raw material, to change the source of a raw material after the device has been cleared by the FDA . . .”

This sentence could be improved by changing the double negative “not uncommon” to “It is common for a firm, based on its own appropriate . . .”

These types of double negatives cause confusion, as readers must go back and re-read to understand your meaning. Worse yet, some double negatives convey the opposite of what’s intended, such as the following example:

The researchers cannot barely contain their excitement at the discovery.

Song lyrics are also often full of double negatives:

  • “We don’t need no education.”
  • “Ain’t no mountain high enough.”
  • “I don’t want nobody else but you.”
  • “Cryin’ won’t help you; prayin’ won’t do you no good”
  • “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone.”

To steer clear of the grammatical faux pas, remember that many ordinary words have negative meanings. Avoid using “not” with these words:

  • unless
  • fail to
  • notwithstanding
  • except
  • other than
  • unlawful (and other un- words)
  • disallowed (and other dis- words)
  • terminate
  • void
  • insufficient
  • hardly
  • scarcely
  • neither
  • never
  • no one
  • nobody
  • nothing

Below are examples of confusing and questionable double negatives, along with their alternatives:

Incorrect: I cannot hardly wait to read that book.
Correct: I can hardly wait to read that book.

Unclear : I am not unconvinced by your argument.
Clear : I am convinced by your argument.

Unclear: The salary increase they are offering is not insignificant.
Clear: The salary increase they are offering is significant.

Unclear: He is not unattractive.
Clear: He is attractive.

How about you, PR Daily readers? What examples of double negatives would you add to the list?


This post was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

Comments are closed.