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"Prohibition against stealing," was the phrase that was being used. I get what the speaker was trying to say, but I'm just wondering if it is grammatically correct or if it could have been worded better.

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    Nothing wrong with "prohibition against stealing" and certainly no double negative. "Prohibition on stealing" would also be correct and, to my ears, would sound better. – Michael Henchard Aug 29 '19 at 15:15
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    Well, nobody is taking the hint. A double negative would be "There isn't no prohibition against stealing" – Mari-Lou A Aug 29 '19 at 19:39
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    This isn't a double negative, but also double negatives are not grammatically incorrect. – nnnnnn Aug 29 '19 at 22:57
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    It might be closer to a tautology - the against seems to be redundant since you can't have a prohibition in favour of something. Writing without the preposition, you could say a stealing prohibition, but that's a bit clunky. I think the against is just a common proposition used with this noun. – Oscar Bravo Aug 30 '19 at 7:02
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    The "negatives" in "double negatives" refer to specific polarity items, not words like "prohibition" that are negative in a semantic sense. – anomaly Aug 30 '19 at 17:28
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A double negative is a grammatical construction occurring when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence. - wikipedia

Your example isn’t a double negative because there aren’t two forms of negation in your quote. There isn’t even one form of negation in the quote.

Syntactically, prohibition is not a negated term. To be a negated form, it would need to be something like non-prohibition.

Likewise, against isn’t a negated term. It is just a preposition to relate the word prohibition to the thing prohibited.

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    well, a double logical/semantic narrative... – Carly Aug 29 '19 at 17:37
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    @Carly: the “in-” in “inhibit” is not actually the negative prefix, but the homophonous prepositional prefix. – herisson Aug 29 '19 at 20:44
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    It's like how "to kill someone murderously" is also not a double negative, though in that particular example one might argue it utilises a delightful poetic redundancy. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 30 '19 at 12:44
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit It's scary that that's the first example you came up. – user359320 Aug 31 '19 at 5:58
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    @automaticallyGenerated My brain is scary :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 31 '19 at 14:26
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“Prohibition against” is not a "double negative" (or rather, it isn't an example of negative concord)*. Compare “a battle against”. Even though the preposition “against” often is used to express that something acts counter to something else, it is not a negation.

As other answers mention, the word “prohibit” also does not contain any morpheme explicitly dedicated to negation. But “prohibit(ion)” does have some connection to negation in that it can license a negative polarity item like “at all”: we can say “they are prohibited from driving at all” while most speakers can’t use at all in a sentence like *“they are permitted to drive at all”. (See Greg Lee's answer to "Is “prohibit” a negative word?")

The Google Ngram Viewer indicates that “against” is the second most common preposition found after “prohibition”. The most common is “of”; you could say “prohibition of stealing”. Other possibilities are “prohibition on” and “prohibition from”.

Google ngram viewer chart showing frequencies of "prohibition" plus any adposition between 1880 and 2008. "prohibition of" is the most frequent, at between 0.000250% and 0.000325%. "prohibition against" is the next most frequent, at between 0.000025% and 0.0000110%. Below that in descending order are "prohibition on", "prohibition in", "prohibition as", "prohibition from", "prohibition by", "prohibition for", "prohibition upon", and "prohibition with".


*"Double negative" is a fairly ambiguous term: it is often used to refer specifically to a construction that is excluded from the grammar of standard English ("I don't have no money" = "I don't have any money"), but a sentence like "I didn't say that he didn't come" has two negative words corresponding to two separate negations, which is completely permissible in standard English. I prefer the term "negative concord" to refer to the phenomenon seen in "I don't have no money" = "I don't have any money"; another benefit of the term "negative concord" is that it doesn't specify a particular number, since we can see more than two negative words in a sentence with concord: "I didn't tell nobody nothing" = "I didn't tell anybody anything."

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  • Isn't the whole point of a true double negative that it is ungrammatical because it leads to an ambiguity: I don't have no money is understood colloquially to mean I don't have any money, however semantically, it actually means I have some money (being without money would mean I have no money, and I've stated I don't have that, so I am not without money). So there is an ambiguity. – Oscar Bravo Aug 30 '19 at 6:58
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    @OscarBravo: Being ambiguous doesn't make something ungrammatical. Standard English has many ambiguous constructions: for example, prepositional phrase attachment and conjunction scope. Negative concord is ungrammatical in standard English because the people who established the standard decided to exclude it. – herisson Aug 30 '19 at 7:05
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    (The "people" I referred to in my last comment consist of speakers and writers with social influence from various eras; I don't mean to say that there was a single moment where this decision was made, or a single identifiable group responsible for it. But the categorization of negative concord as "ungrammatical" is definitely a social convention: this judgement is not just an inevitable consequence of the way that the rest of English semantics works.) – herisson Aug 30 '19 at 7:05
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    @OscarBravo: "I don't have no money" does not "actually" mean "I have some money." No native speaker would understand it to mean that in regular, everyday speech (at least, not to the exclusion of the negative form). Language is a tool for communication, not a system of formal logic. Words and sentences mean what they are commonly understood to mean, no more and no less. – Kevin Aug 31 '19 at 0:59
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    @Kevin I'm not sure I agree actually, whether the negative form is excluded might depend on context or even emphasis. For example, how would you interpret someone saying "I don't have no money"; someone replying to "Do you really have no money?" with "I don't have no money" (perhaps with the previous stress on the no); or clarifying with "I don't have no money but I don't have loads either"? – Silverfish Aug 31 '19 at 14:32
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A double negative? No. It's not even a single negative. Neither "prohibition" nor "against" is a negative. Examples of negatives include but are not limited to:

  • no
  • not
  • nothing
  • nobody
  • nowhere
  • none

A negative in grammar expressly contradicts what the negative is modifying so as to indicate an absence of existence.

To be clear, "prohibition" is the positive action of some authority imposing a rule that bars a thing or activity. "No prohibition" would be a negative because it would indicate the absence of existence of prohibition. Likewise, "against" is a preposition that positively situates the relative positions of the subject of the preposition and the object of the preposition. "Not against" would be a negative because it would indicate the absence of that situation.

"The helmet failed against the crushing weight of the brick falling on it from ten stories up." In that sentence, you may view "failed" in a negative light, but it's not grammatically negative because it is indicating the positive action of the helmet caving in instead of performing the positive action of resisting or repelling the crushing weight. Likewise "against" positively posits the crushing weight in relation to the helmet. Were it "The helmet failed not against the crushing weight..." that would be a negative. Were it "Not the helmet failed against the crushing weight..." that would be a negative. A double negative would be, "It wasn't the helmet that didn't fail," which would be wrong if the meaning were suggesting that the helmet failed but something else didn't.

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    There's semantic negation (or really negativity) in both words. (But they don't actually logically convert to a single positive.) – Mitch Aug 29 '19 at 20:26
  • There is no absolute semantic negativity in "against". "Against" is just a connector. "The shovel is leaning against the wall" doesn't mean that the shovel is opposed to the wall and wants to knock it down. Sometimes "against" just indicates a relationship between objects, or a direction "against the grain, not with". – Kaz Aug 30 '19 at 21:01
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No, it's not a double negative. "Against" doesn't mean "not", and any negative sentence it has is applied to "stealing", not "prohibition". It is at most a negative concord. Just because a word "goes with" negative senses doesn't make it a negative. For instance, consider "There are some" versus "There are not any". When you switch from positive to negative, "some" changes to "any". That doesn't mean that "any" is a negative, or that "There are not any" is a double negative.

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    You could give an example of a double negstive, so the OP can compare – Mari-Lou A Aug 29 '19 at 16:36
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    @Mari-LouA you mean like this one? – crizzis Aug 31 '19 at 10:12

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