Does this sound fine?

'Not only Sarah, but also Jim didn't like Paris.'

I am wondering if not can be used twice, even though the use of not is quite different in each position, as in the above. Is this sentence grammatically correct, either when written or spoken?

  • 2
    This sentence is not correct. Although I would normally explain double negatives to you, unfortunately, I do not have the time. I will offer a suggestion however: Try grouping Sarah and Jim together. EXAMPLE: Both Sarah and Jim disliked Paris, or They didn't like Paris.
    – JCG
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 5:03
  • Many thanks. I thought so, too. Just wanted a confirmation:)
    – pickaxe711
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 5:28
  • 2
    It is awkward and confusing, but is it really a true double negative? The word "not" modifies "only", not "Sarah". The phrase "Not only X but also Y" is not itself negative, and refers positively to two people. I'm not advocating the construction because it's poorly worded, but I can't shake the feeling that it is technically grammatically correct.
    – Nonnal
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 5:49
  • 2
    You could get away saying your sentence in speech. I don't think anyone would misunderstand, but written down, it looks clumsy. I'd go for: "Neither Sarah nor Jim liked Paris" or with more emphasis: "Sarah wasn't the only one who didn't like Paris, neither did Jim"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 7:24

2 Answers 2


I think if we expand the sentence to fill in the elliptical element in the first phrase to clarify the intention, we would have, "Not only Sarah didn't like Paris, but also Jim didn't like Paris." It then appears that the first "not" is negating the first independent clause, "Only Sarah didn't like Paris." So, the two "not's" serve different functions, as you note. The second "not" negates the act of liking; whereas, the first "not" negates the assertion that Sarah was the only one who didn't like. Given that the "not's" serve different grammatical and logical functions, as you note, it seems to me that the sentence is quite acceptable, as the second "not" is not negative the first "not". Perhaps another way to view it as acceptable is to recast it logically as "It is not that case that, if Sarah disliked Paris, no one else disliked Paris, and Jim disliked Paris."


"Not only X, but also Y" is rarely used to modify a subject of a sentence as in your example as there are more concise ways to convey the same message as JCG mentioned in the comment.

(1) Neither Sarah nor Jim liked Paris.
(2) Both Sarah and Jim disliked (hated) Paris.
(3) Sarah and Jim both disliked (hated) Paris.

Comparing your example with the (1) sentence, you can see it is far more concise than your example while there is no change in its meaning.

If you really have to use "not only X, but also Y", it is better to change "not like" to "dislike (hate)" as it clears the confusion that the two "not's" might cause. Of course, the functions of the first "not" and the second "not" are different, but it is better to use an alternative if there is one available.

"Not only Sarah, but also Jim disliked (hated) Paris".

You can visit Cambridge Dictionary Grammar Site to see more examples of how the construction works. There is not a single example that shows "non only X, but also Y" modifies a subject.

Not only did she forget my birthday, but she also didn’t even apologise for forgetting it.

If you rephrase it to:

Not only did she not remember my birthday, but she also didn’t even apologise for not remembering it.

It is less confusing than your example as "not only X, but also Y" modifies verbs and the sentence is inversed.

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