This construction and its variants always sound strange to me. If I was asked to write a sentence with the same meaning, my choice would be:

I don't want a robot running the empire.

Logically, don't want (...) no robot conveys rather the contrary for me: want a robot.

Can someone please clarify the choice? I had just read it in Asimov's Forward the Foundation.

Thank you.

  • 3
    It is what is sometimes called "AAV" -- African-American Vernacular -- though, as in this case, it is often used by "literate" writers to either "sound like common folk" or simply emphasize a point.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 17:18
  • 1
    @HotLicks The double negative is part of AAV, but it's use goes beyond that venue. It's long been a shibboleth across racial and national bounaries to sort the illiterate from the lettered.
    – deadrat
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 17:44
  • 3
    English isn't based on mathematical logic. The doubled negative is in this case an intensifier of negation. Go here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/207873/…
    – deadrat
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 17:48
  • 2
    I recently reread "Forward the Foundation" and the speaker was a member of the local underclass. Asimov chose the ungrammatical form to emphasize this.
    – ab2
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 19:48
  • 2
    @AmI English has occasions where the deliberate use of the double negative is standard and logical. Not here though.
    – deadrat
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 2:08

2 Answers 2


It's a double negative. Like e.g. ain't, it's not considered "proper" English but is in wide colloquial use (both now and when Asimov wrote Foundation).


English has always used double negatives for emphasis. There are examples from Chaucer, for example;

He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In all his lyf unto no maner wight

(“He never yet no vileness didn’t say / In all his life to no manner of man”)

The idea that two negatives make a positive is a late invention (and to my mind not mathematically justifiable in English)

It's persisted in conversation but it was declared uncouth by grammarians in the eighteenth century 'Better educated' people avoid it so it's used to indicate a lower educational status.

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