Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Possible Duplicate:
“I ain’t got no money”

Why does the phrase "I ain't doing nothing" mean "I am doing nothing"?

According to me, "I ain't doing nothing" should translate to "I am not doing nothing", which implies that "I am doing something".

share|improve this question
1  
'Rules' are more flexible in English than some would like. This usage is idiomatic, and idioms (of which there are many) break rules – some, semantic rules (how can a camel be a ship?) and some, syntactic rules. Innit. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 11 '13 at 7:38
    
Because in natural language, double negatives are negative, not positive: language isn't math. Sophists will claim that I ain't doing nothing = I am doing something, but they're just pretending to be nitpicking lawyers. Context will tell you when a double negative is intended to express a positive and when it's intended to express a negative. Words alone are not enough, especially when they're on a page instead of coming out of a speaker's mouth. –  user21497 Jan 11 '13 at 7:43
1  
It's the same in French: Non, je ne regrette rien (Edith Piaf). /// Non, rien de rien // Non, je ne regrette rien [No, I don't regret nothing = No, I don't regret anything] // Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait // Ni le mal; tout ça m'est bien égal! –  user21497 Jan 11 '13 at 7:46
    
A camel can even be an aeroplane... –  Mr Lister Jan 11 '13 at 7:59
    
I ain't never done nothing to nobody –  mplungjan Jan 11 '13 at 8:06
show 4 more comments

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 9:38

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

1 Answer

Multiple negation has long been a feature of English. It continues to be so in nonstandard dialects, but is no longer allowed in Standard English. It isn’t a case of one negative cancelling another. Rather, the greater the number of negatives, the greater the force of the negation. If you think it’s illogical, try telling that to the French, whose standard form of the language features the two negatives ne and pas used together.

share|improve this answer
    
@BarrieEngland: Just correct me if I am wrong. We can't have "nothing" in negative sentence. "Anything" is much suitable.Am I right? –  Bhushan Firake Jan 11 '13 at 8:40
    
@Bhushan Firake. If you're thinking of a sentence like I don't know nothing, then that is not permissible in Standard English. It will, however, be found in other dialects. –  Barrie England Jan 11 '13 at 8:56
    
@BhushanFirake actually you can't have nothing in a positive sentence. Nothing in itself is negative, so it is found only in negative sentences by definition. "I have nothing." "He did nothing." –  RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 9:44
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.