double negatives

 Most people know you shouldn’t say "I haven’t had no dinner," but some writers, doubtless more out of haste than ignorance, sometimes perpetrate sentences that are scarcely less jarring, as here: "Stranded and uncertain of their location, the survivors endured for six days without hardly a trace of food" (Chicago Tribune). Since hardly, like scarcely, has the grammatical effect of a negative, it requires no further negation. Make it "with hardly."
 Some usage guides flatly condemn all double negatives, but there is one kind, in which a negative in the main clause is paralleled in a subordinate construction, that we might view more tolerantly. Evans cites this sentence from Jane Austen: "There was none too poor or remote not to feel an interest." And Shakespeare wrote: "Nor what he said, though it lacked form a little, was not like madness." But such constructions must be considered exceptional. More often the intrusion of a second negative is merely a sign of fuzzy writing. At best it will force the reader to pause and perform some verbal arithmetic, adding negative to negative, as here: "The plan is now thought unlikely not to go ahead" (London Times). At worst it may leave the reader darkly baffled, as in this memorably convoluted sentence from a leading authority: "Moreover . . . our sense of linguistic tact will not urge us not to use words that may offend or irritate" (Quirk, The Use of English).

Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

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