Using Negatives

There are a few rules to keep in mind when making a sentence say "No."

1. Double negatives are nonstandard. Avoid two negative words in the same clause.

Incorrect: I don't want no seconds.
(Both don't and no are negatives.)

Correct: I don't want any seconds.

Correct: I want no seconds.

This rule does not include negative interjections at the beginning of a sentence or clause, since those are grammatically separate.

Correct: No, I don't want any seconds.

2. Do not use but in a negative sense with another negative.

Incorrect: He didn't want but one good manuscript.

Correct: He wanted but one good manuscript.

Correct: He wanted only one good manuscript.

3. Words like barely, hardly, and scarcely have a negative sense and should not be used with another negative. In effect, this creates a double negative.

Incorrect: He couldn't hardly speak.

Correct: He could hardly speak.

Incorrect: We were not barely able to see the stage.

Correct: We were barely able to see the stage.


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