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Saying ‘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:

    fail to
    other than
    unlawful (and other un- words)
    disallowed (and other dis- words)
    no one

Free download: 10 punctuation essentials
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?


Vivian Li

PR Manager

Tel: +86 010 8390 7451

Mobile: +86 13041030670