A double negative is generally defined as two negative words in the same clause. In these examples:

"No it is not."

"No I don't think so."

is "No" considered a clause unto itself? Or is it in the same clause as the rest of the sentence, thus constituting a double negative?

  • 4
    "Double Negative" is not a happy term. It can refer to two negatives in a row that cancel out, or two negatives in a row that don't cancel out. Let's not try to define it, OK? Utterances like No as independent parts are not intended to be parts of the clause but rather to emphasize something, like a question intonation or a smile or a grunted "eh?". Certainly they're not logical. Logical negatives always have a focus (the word they modify, usually) and a scope (the range within which they can trigger Negative Polarity Items like ever or in weeks). Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 0:02
  • Great answer: So, in my examples, would "No" be considered an interjection? Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 0:09
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    Consider the inverse question. Is "Yes, it is." a double positive? The question it raises to my mind is whether or not anyone cared about double negation in grammar before there was a rigorously defined and widely known concept of mathematical negation.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 7:32
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    @Patrick: More to the point, if these were double negatives, how would you turn them into single negatives? "Yes it is not"/"No it is"? "Yes I don't think so"/"No I do think so"?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 10:29

4 Answers 4


Yes, “no” is separate from the clause containing the verb. No, these are not double negatives.

Whether you consider “yes” and “no” clauses on their own is more contested, but it really doesn’t matter—they are not part of the clause that the double negatives would appear in. The fact that they (“yes” and “no”) are normally followed by a comma—and can perfectly well be followed by a period—indicates that they are separate entities:

No, it is not.
No. It is not.

In cases of double negations, such separations are not possible:

I ain’t got nothing against double negations.
*I ain’t got, nothing against double negations.
*I ain’t got. Nothing against double negations.

The last two of these are quite obviously not valid, since “I ain’t got” (or “I haven’t got”) is not a complete sentence.

  • 2
    Yes, absolutely. When no is the opposite of yes, it is basically always an interjection/exclamation. (It can also be a determiner, as in “I have no money”; but it’s not the opposite of yes in those uses—“I have yes money” is nonsense.) Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 0:12
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    Oh come now, in that example, you've got to use a triple negative: I ai n't got nothing against no double negations Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 2:55
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    @KyranF Not only American, no. Very common in many dialects of British English as well. Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 11:08
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    @KyranF You believe incorrectly. It's a dialectal feature quite separate from education. Many educated speakers know full well to avoid double negations in standardised English, but use them freely in their own dialectal speech. If anything speaks of “ignorance and lack of understanding of their own language”, it's unilaterally writing off such dialectal features as “uneducated”. Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 11:12
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    @KyranF Clearly you're not aware of the history of the language. Double negatives of this sort were the norm in English until the "uneducated" shifted usage. Quoth Chaucer (HT WP), "He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In all his lyf unto no maner wight", or quoth the Bard "I never was nor never will be". I use double negatives in my dialect, I adjust my usage for situations requiring MSE. If you want to attach preconceived and illogical notions about my level of education based on my speech, fine. That speaks far more of "ignorance and lack of understand of [your] own language!" Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 12:08

Possibly apocryphal but worth recounting:

The eminent linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin of Oxford once gave a lecture in which he asserted that there are many languages in which a double negative makes a positive, but none in which a double positive makes a negative — to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, sitting in the audience, sarcastically replied, “Yeah, yeah.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/the-enemy-of-my-enemy/, also referenced at http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=95;t=000006;p=0:

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    Probably apocryphal-- every time somebody tells a version of this story, the actual words they quote (be it "Yeah, sure" or whatever) seem to be different. And in any case, this wouldn't be a "double negative" in the syntactic sense so it's a slightly pointless anecdote whether true or not...! Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 13:57
  • Yeah, yeah ... you're right, the quote is about double positives ("there is "no language [...] in which a double positive makes a negative") rather than double negatives, so it's not strictly on-topic. Still, people are being born every minute, so there must be somebody who hasn't heard it before !
    – mikeham
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 15:56

The question is incorrectly phrased.

“No it’s not” isn’t grammatically correct. Neither is “No I don’t think so”.

The question can only be correctly answered (and the answer therefore becomes quite obvious) when written properly.

“No, it’s not”. “No. I don’t think so”.

There is no double negative here because “no” is an interjection.


It could be argued that it is or isn't a double negative, but the alternatives wouldn't be any better. Even "I don't think so," and "It is not" do not have the same balance as "No, I don't think so," and "No, it is not." The "no" is short and states the answer, while "I don't think so," and "it is not" elaborate on how firm your knowledge of your answer is("I don't think so" meaning that you don't know for sure, but you believe it enough to say it as your answer or "it is not" meaning you know for sure). Using the "conventional" negative and positive that is usually prescribed is even worse because it says two opposites and leaves room for confusion, as in "Yes, I don't think so," or "Yes, it is not."

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