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English definition of “double negative”

double negative

noun [C]    
the use of two negatives (= words that mean "no") in the same phrase or sentence : The phrase "a not unfamiliar situation " is an example of a double negative .Grammatical terms Grammar:Double negatives and usageIn standard English, when we use negative words such as nobody, nowhere, never or nothing, we do not commonly use a negative verb:Grammar:NegationWhen we want to say that something is not true or is not the case, we can use negative words, phrases or clauses. Negation can happen in a number of ways, most commonly, when we use a negative word such as no, not, never, none, nobody, etc:Grammar:Forming negative statements, questions and imperativesGrammar:Negation: two negativesStandard English does not have two negatives in the same clause (double negatives). Words such as never, nobody, no one, none, nothing, nowhere, etc. already have a negative meaning, so we don’t need another negative with the verb:Grammar:Negative clauses with any, anybody, anyone, anything, anywhereWe don’t use not with some, someone, somebody, something, somewhere in statements. We use any, anyone, anybody, anything, anywhere:Grammar:Negation in non-finite clausesNon-finite clauses are clauses without a subject, where the main verb is in the to-infinitive form, the -ing form or the -ed form. To make the negative of a non-finite clause, we can use not.Grammar:Negative prefixes and suffixesWe use these prefixes most commonly in negation: de-, dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir-, mis-, non-, un-:Grammar:Negative adverbs: hardly, seldom, etc.Some adverbs (e.g. hardly, little, never, only, scarcely and seldom) have a negative meaning. When we use these at the beginning of the clause, we invert the subject and verb:Grammar:Negation: emphasisingWhen we want to emphasise something negative, we often use at all. We normally use at all immediately after the word or phrase we are emphasising:Grammar:Negation of think, believe, suppose, hopeWhen we use verbs like think, believe, suppose (mental process verbs) to express uncertainty about something, we usually use not with the mental process verb rather than with the verb in the following clause:
(Definition of double negative noun from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
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