Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Double Negatives

Normally we don't want to use a double negative, meaning we don't want two words in a sentence that indicate that we don't want to do something. For example, "I don't want nothing at the store" reads much better as "I don't want anything at the store." But sometimes there are exceptions.

Often written dialogue sounds more realistic with double negatives, especially if you are quoting people who are deliberately misspeaking such as teenagers who know better but are trying to sound cool, or people who are accidentally misspeaking such as those with English as a second language.

The other time that I like double negatives for writers is for emphasis. I was listening to a song by Boyzone yesterday (yes, I know, a boy band, slightly higher on the totem pole than Backstreet Boys, whom I also like, for the record. So, shoot me.) and they sang the following line: "I'll never not need you." Those words kept going around and around in my head, not just because I'm a writer and an editor and double negatives pop out at me like a caterpillar crawling through a Caesar salad but also because of the impact the line made. Never not need you. It sounded so romantic, much more so than "I'll always need you."

So, double negatives aren't always taboo, but in general they are something we want to avoid. The trick about using them is to know the rule first – that they are not grammatically correct – and then feel free to break that rule if you have good reason.



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