We don’t never got no use for it

Multiple negation—perfectly acceptable in standard dialects of other languages, non-standard dialects of Modern English, and older dialects of standard English—has been utterly eradicated and is severely prohibited from Modern Standard Formal English.

Prescriptivist maven Bishop Lowth decreed–quite contrary to what is actually the case–that two negatives cancel each other out and make a positive. In fact, in dialects which allow it, multiple grammatical negation intensifies the negative.

“I can’t get no satisfaction doesn’t mean Mick Jagger CAN get satisfaction. When someone says “He don’t never go nowhere”, we all know exactly what is meant: He really, really, really likes to stay home.

Despite its persistence in colloquial dialects of English, fuelled in no small measure by the large number of immigrants from countries where multiple negation is standard acquiring English as a second language, Lowth’s decree was passed down by other grammarians and generations of sarcasm-spewing, ruler-wielding schoolmasters to become what Merriam Webster describes as “part of the warp and woof of pedagogy”.

Which is where we are now. If you want to be an expert at Standard Modern Formal English, you had better learn that the “double negative” is one of the most despised constructions in the game—and avoid it like the plague.


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