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There are some phrases in English that lead to nothing but unnecessary confusion and frustration, especially for non-native speakers. For instance, I've seen the phrase ain't no something being used lot more than necessary. Examples:

  1. Ghosts? There ain't no such things.
  2. There ain't no chocolates in my pockets.
  3. I ain't no magician sir, I'm just a technical person.

First of all, two negatives should cancel each other in a sentence. So "ain't" and "no", the two negatives should cancel each other out. So, the sentence There ain't no chocolates in my pocket effectively means There [are] chocolates in my pockets. Yet, in common usage, it is understood to mean There are no chocolates in my pocket. Why all this confusion? Can't you just say what you really mean to say?

EDIT: The linked answer is very related, but not an exact duplicate of what I want to ask. My question is not just about the use of negatives, but rather the confusing or ambiguous meaning resulting out of it.

marked as duplicate by Janus Bahs Jacquet, Robusto, Chenmunka, Centaurus, tchrist Mar 15 '15 at 1:06

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.

  • Ain't no dictator gonna tell us how we should speak. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 14 '15 at 9:49
  • @EdwinAshworth I ain't no dictator sir, only a student learning new languages. – Prahlad Yeri Mar 14 '15 at 10:29
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    That depends entirely on what register, dialect, and style you wish to portray. If you’re writing an academic paper, avoid negative concord. If you’re talking to someone who speaks AAVE or any other dialect where negative concord frequently appears, there’s no reason for you to avoid it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 14 '15 at 10:53
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    There ain't no ambiguity in this construction. It always means "there isn't any", and it is only used in non-standard dialects. Anybody who tells you the two no's cancel each other out in this case don't know nothing 'bout real spoken English. – Peter Shor Mar 14 '15 at 12:06
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    @PeterShor, "don't know nothing 'bout no real spoken English"'d be better ;-) – guifa Mar 15 '15 at 0:42

"There ain't no ..." is not standard English, but it is genuine English and genuine grammar in a certain sociolect - that's the authentic way some people speak.

Added: "There ain't no + noun" is typical of the variety of English called Afro American Vernacular English (AAVE). Link to an article about AAVE with typical examples (at the end of the article). Vernacular is a variety of language that is considered as substandard. http://www.hawaii.edu/satocenter/langnet/definitions/aave.html

Features of this variety of language also appear in songtexts. http://www.songtexte.com/songtext/tom-jones/aint-no-sunshine-when-shes-gone-43d6bf03.html

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    From Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone: That ain't no ordinary cut on your forehead, Harry. A mark like that only comes from being touched by a curse – Prahlad Yeri Mar 14 '15 at 11:09

Before the 17th century, the double negative was used to express or even strenghten the negative meaning of the sentence. After the 17th century the double negative started to mean the same as affirmative, as, when trying to systematize the English grammar, stated Lowth.

The double negative still hasn't vanished and is now commonly used by certain societies either to (as before) strengten the negative meaning or just because they using slang. Either way, the use of double negative isn't acceptable in the standart English.

Thus, the rule of thumb is that when you hear the double negative, you don't need to be confused at all, because the speaker just wants to express the negative meaning. He or she will never mean it as an affirmative clause.

The ain't itself is a slang contraction of are not, am not etc, used when you informaly speak with someone. The double negative makes it even more informal and slang-ish, which results in being used only by uneducated people or when you would want to invoke the "street" atmosphere (in books or films).

  • If that is the case, then why insert an extra no after am not. For instance, I am not psycho makes sense. But why say I am not no psycho which the slang speakers say as I ain't no psycho ? – Prahlad Yeri Mar 14 '15 at 10:38
  • @PrahladYeri I've edited my answer to correspond to your comment and your edit. – Sh4rP EYE Mar 14 '15 at 11:22
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    There was never any chance of it vanishing. Negative concord (We don't have none) is much more common in speech than in writing, that's all. And it's the norm in most languages of the world. In English we have available, and often use, negative polarity items instead of just repeating negatives. Negative Polarity, not Negative Concord. That's the only real difference, and it complicates English syntax unbelievably to have to learn how to use all those Negative Polarity idioms. Especially since they never teach this stuff in schools. – John Lawler Mar 14 '15 at 14:03
  • @J.F.Sebastian fixed – Sh4rP EYE Mar 14 '15 at 22:36
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    "not educated enough to speak the right way"? Excuse me? I'm perfectly well educated in Standard English. I'm also perfectly well educated in SAE and AAVE. When I speak in SE (which is not necessarily "right" or "correct" English), I don't use double negatives. When I speak in SAE or AAVE, I do use it. – guifa Mar 15 '15 at 0:21

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