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Does the phrase "don't let no one touch it" fall under the double-negative category? What would be the difference if no one was replaced with nobody?

closed as off-topic by Kris, JonMark Perry, jimm101, AmE speaker, Scott Aug 15 '18 at 5:05

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No one and nobody are mostly equivalent semantically.

Let no one tell you otherwise.
Let nobody tell you otherwise.


Yet while essentially the same, they could be interpreted in a subtly different way:

Let no single person tell you otherwise.
Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

In theory (although not normally in practice), if you take no one to a literal extreme, you could claim that a group of people all telling you something different would be allowed. On the other hand, nobody includes the singular and the plural.


And, yes, your sentence is an example of a double negative, whether it uses no one or nobody.

But in informal use it would not be treated as a double negative.

While if taken in its literal (syntactical) double negative sense, it would mean make sure that everybody touches it—or make sure that someone touches it, depending on how you view it.

  • If you accept that some people falls outside no one, then somebody also falls outside nobody. – Lawrence Aug 14 '18 at 5:43
  • Does anyone treat "double negatives" of this form as anything other than emphatic? I can't imagine anyone insisting on a literal interpretation other than as a joke (or a rather silly attempt to impose their preferred dialect on someone else!) – user184130 Aug 14 '18 at 9:36
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    @JamesRandom I wouldn't say that it's never possible . . . – Jason Bassford Aug 14 '18 at 9:39
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    I once read a short story that ended with something like... if your doubts about the non-veracity of this story are unfounded then it is untrue that I am not sitting here wearing a fez given to me by the King of Morocco. The Language Log blog has regular articles about double-negatives and "misnegation" (where what people say appears to be the opposite of what they mean, but we normally extract the desired meaning anyway); it seems the brain is limited to handling about thee levels of negation intuitively. – user184130 Aug 14 '18 at 9:47
  • @JamesRandom That's when you give up trying to parse it and just count how many negatives there are; if it's an even number, you can assume it's actually a positive. Although your example sentence strains even that. ;) – Jason Bassford Aug 14 '18 at 9:55
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Yes, it is a double negative. "Don't" is a contraction of "do not", and the second negative is the "no" of "no one". The phrase is not grammatically correct because; as one negative cancels out the other; surely, you're not trying to say "let everyone touch it".

Changing "no one" to "nobody" would make no difference because they basically mean the same thing in this context.

If your intention is to prevent any person from touching it, you could simply remove the first negative and say "let no one touch it". That conveys the meaning, but it's a rather weak statement when given as an instruction for someone else to do.

It would be more assertive to say "allow no one to touch it" or "make sure nobody touches it". Alternatively, you could keep just the first negative and say: "don't let anyone touch it" or "do not allow people to touch it".

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    This doesn't answer the question that was asked, however. – choster Aug 14 '18 at 4:46
  • "Neither are grammatically correct. " is not grammatically correct. – Kris Aug 14 '18 at 7:43
  • Your answer is (a) wrong and (b) doesn't answer the question. – user184130 Aug 14 '18 at 9:37

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