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From time to time I come across a sentence with double negation, but where the meaning is still negative. For example :

I don't need no man.

I suppose that this sentence means

I don't need any man

but normally, because of the double negation, it would mean

I need a man

So why ? Maybe it's a way of speaking I don't know about ?

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    English is not math. Double negatives in English serve to emphasize the thrust of a statement. "I can't get no satisfaction" could be rephrased as "I really can't get any satisfaction."
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 14:24
  • Actually, in French (my native language), the same sentence would have meant the contrary. Therefore, I wasn't aware of this. Could you post this as an answer ? I will accept it.
    – FR073N
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 19:54
  • As you wish. See below.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 20:14
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    It should be noted that using double negatives as in the several examples here is not usually considered "proper" English, but rather slang or ethnic dialect. (And note that generally what you see here is "no" substituted for "any".)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 20:34
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    You should not use such constructs in any formal writing or speech. Certainly you can use them in private notes or if you are writing a story or some such where you intend to duplicate the dialect.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 20:59

1 Answer 1

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English is not math. Double negatives in English mainly serve to emphasize the thrust of a statement.

"I can't get no satisfaction"

could be rephrased as

"I really can't get any satisfaction."

Note that this is almost always heard in an informal register. In specific or more formal circumstances one can use a double negative to state an affirmative in a roundabout way:

Wife: Did you go to that strip club last night?

Husband: Let's put it this way: I didn't not go.

(He went to the strip club.)

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    Reminds me of the English class where the prof explained that, while a double negative could be interpreted as a positive in many circumstances, there was no case in English where a double positive would imply a negative. To which one student replied, "Yeah, right!"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 20:35
  • Yes, I've heard that one before. Pretty funny.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 20:37
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    There is a difference between a double negative and negative concordance: "I did not not go" is a double negative, but the original merely uses negative concordance, and so would not be a positive. At least, that’s one way of reading it.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 21:01

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