Common mistakes in English – 4
We continue with our series on common mistakes in English. In this part, we will mainly focus on double negatives. Often, you must have seen writers using two negatives together. Is it right to do so? Does it make sense? And why can’t we just be direct? We try to answer these questions.
You must have come across sentences where the writer has used two negatives. It is often done for effect. But remember, in the majority of cases, two negatives in the same sentence do not make for emphasis. Instead, it simply cancels each other.
For example, it is incorrect to write, He didn’t give me no call.
The correct statement should be – He didn’t give me a call/any call.
This rule applies not only to all the negative words beginning with n (like no, not, never, none, nowhere, nobody) but also to words which have a negative force, such as scarcely/hardly. Example –
Incorrect: I didn’t hardly understand him
Correct: I hardly (or scarcely) understood him
‘Neither’ is always accompanied by ‘nor’. Similarly, ‘either’ is balanced by ‘or’. Example –
He gave me neither any money nor food.
He didn’t bring either my luggage or papers.
Since the two negatives cancel each other, they are often used to write a positive statement. For example –
She owed me no small sum (here, the writer wants to say ‘a large amount,’ hence ‘no small sum’).
Similarly, we can write – Not for nothing have I travelled all this way (the writer is emphasising on the gains of the travel).
Sometimes, it is a good idea to switch a negative to the beginning of the sentence. Example – Not for a moment did I think before accepting the job offer.
Can you think of more such mistakes? Well, send them across and we will keep on updating the list.
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