“I don’t have nothing for you to read here.”

So, does that mean there is something to read here or not?

In the Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and other languages that descended from Latin) it is common that you might see the double negative being used. In these languages it is used to express a negative point.

In English it has been a long debated point as to whether it is acceptable or not. In terms of it being grammatically correct, it is. However it changes the thought or sentence into a positive sentence rather than a negative one. It is for this reason that your English teachers and native English speaking friends will tell you not to use the double negative.

Along with the change in meaning, comes the problem with being misunderstood and misunderstanding the rule yourself. It may be that you intend to say something negative and so use the double negative, which then translates to a positive point, and in doing this you end up saying the complete opposite of what you intended on saying in the first place.

Now I can hear the many supporters of American English and, specifically, those that have an appreciation for the liberal use of poetic license, quipping up and backing the fact that it is acceptable to use the double negative to relay a negative point. In terms of the formal English register and especially for second language speakers and any students of English it is recommended to stay away from this in spoken and written language, due to the reasons that have been mentioned above.

Nonetheless the double negative has crept its way into history on more than one occasion. It is commonplace in the music world to see writers use the double negative;

“We don’t need no education.” – Pink Floyd – The Wall

“Then you can’t tell me nothing, right?” – Kanye West – “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” – Bill Withers – “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone”

“I can’t get no Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones – “Satisfaction”

Whether this is intentional, a mistake or perhaps an emphasis on the negative we may never know.

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