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I have a bit of an issue with negations. Are the following correct?

I do not give anything to anyone //I guess this is correct
I give nothing to no-one //can I say that?

Generally, is it the same to use these two statements? e.g.:
This humour does not hurt anyone.
This humour hurts nobody. //is this acceptable?

I do not know whether there is any difference or not.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The only existing answer is at best misleading.

"I do not give anything to anyone" is standard English

"I give nothing to no-one" is a double negative - not uncommon, but considered "non-standard".

"This humour doesn't hurt anyone" is standard English.

"This humour hurts nobody" is standard English.

Note that the only "non-standard" variant above is easily recast to full acceptability:

"I give nothing to anyone" is standard English.

There's no difference in meaning whether the negation is applied to the verb (give/do not give, hurts/doesn't hurt) or to the object (anything/nothing, anyone/nobody).

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Constructions with any are prototypical Negative Polarity Items. The OP is not the only one who has a problem with negatives; they're probably the most complex portion of English semantics and the weirdest part of its syntax. –  John Lawler Feb 29 '12 at 17:39
    
@John Lawler: Not sure I understand the typographic conventions in your link, within which the very first entry says "I *(don’t) have any". Surely that asterisk isn't intended to signify the construction is "marked", and by implication not acceptable to the average native speaker? –  FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 17:52
    
It's a standard way to save space when presenting multiple examples. Parentheses surround optional elements. Asterisk outside parentheses means that deleting the parenthesized element produces ungrammaticality. Asterisk inside parentheses means that inserting (i.e, not deleting) the parenthesized element produces ungrammaticality. In the case of I *(don’t) have any, that indicates that *I have any is ungrammatical. –  John Lawler Feb 29 '12 at 20:17
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@John Lawler: oic - neat trick! Intuitive enough once I know what I'm looking for (in computer syntax we often use [square] brackets for elements that might not be present). I feel a bit silly now though - having gone back and looked at the page again, I've just realised you did provide that information. My screen dimensions are such that the ruled line at the end of the list just came at the bottom of the display, and I never thought to scroll below it. Der! –  FumbleFingers Feb 29 '12 at 23:32
    
dõ'wəriəbauɾiʔ -- as I've said many times, wrapping one's head around negation is really a bizarre experience, especially if one has to deal with strange notational conventions at the same time. The NPI list started out typed and grew into a handout over many years, and I was at pains to keep it on one page. At that, there's plenty more to say. –  John Lawler Mar 1 '12 at 0:18
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