Often, I come across expressions like 'I can't have no money', 'I don't want no help', 'Do you want them tomatoes', 'Be careful with them toes' when watching cartoons, movies and shows. Does anybody consider these to be proper English?

  • This should be two separate questions. – RegDwigнt Jan 24 '11 at 10:23
  • Much like Yoda says, "There is no proper or improper English. There is only language." Either the language is communicative or non-communicative. If it's functional, then it by definition is good English. Perhaps you mean to ask whether these expressions are formally accepted as part of Standard AmE or BrE vernaculars. If that is the case then it's been well established that double negatives are a prevailing part of English. It's only been seen as a 'improper' use due to the parochial nature of English grammar instruction in public institutions. – Revlis Lain Feb 10 '17 at 9:46

None are correct English, but they are typical in the vernacular. These particular examples are often used by Cockneys (people from east London), where double negatives are common, often for comical effect (in the form of irony or sarcasm) or to emphasise.

I can't have no money, I don't want no help

More frequently "I ain't got no money". Negating the fact reinforces the speaker's lack of money / complete refusal of help.

In a sarcastic vein, a Cockney would say:

D'ya see Andy's new bird? No slim chick!

Andrew has a new girlfriend. She's very fat.

Do you want them tomatoes? Be careful with them toes

I don't know the origin of these deliberate errors (them instead of those), but I suspect that they are a way to identify oneself as a member of the community. Another common deliberate mistake is to decline the verb "be" as if it were regular:

We was waiting for the bloke, an' 'e never came!

  • Negative concord is not used for emphasis my friend. – McGurk May 24 '14 at 18:18
  • 1
    Things like this aren't deliberate, that's a common fallacy. Speech is spontaneous. Dialectal features can mark someone as an in-member of a community, and there can be conscious awareness of this, but no one is "making mistakes on purpose" for that. They aren't even making mistakes, all of these sentences are grammatical! – McGurk May 24 '14 at 18:25
  • @McGurk "all of these sentences are grammatical" is a meaningless tautology; every sentence that isn't nonsense contains some sort of grammar. The correct phrase is "all those sentences are grammatically correct". That statement is false; "we was waiting for the bloke" is grammatically incorrect in English. There is no fallacy, when Fred says "we was waiting for the bloke", he does so knowing that it is incorrect, but the 'in' way to speak. Oh, and given the ghastly English you write, spare me the 'my friend', we ain't, thanks. – smirkingman May 24 '14 at 20:18
  • 1
    YOU don't understand dialectal differences. That's your problem. You think variation in speech can only be do to errors or 'lack of intelligence'. This is entirely false, sir. Painfully false. Fluency in language is attained without school. Perfect fluency. Get your facts straight, please, because acting like an authority about things you don't understand is very, very dangerous. – McGurk Jul 12 '14 at 16:11
  • 1
    Wow...African American English isn't English? A dialect is so-called because two speakers of different dialects in the same language can understand each other. That's why African American English is English. Because the lexicons and grammar are almost identical. Unlike, say, FRENCH and ENGLISH in which the lexicons and grammars are ENTIRELY DISTINCT. Good lord. – McGurk Jul 12 '14 at 16:14

They're definitely improper, but they're often considered acceptable in very informal situations.

  • 1
    OR in different dialects, even when they speak formally. – McGurk May 24 '14 at 18:22

"I can't have no money" - This is an example of negative concord which is common in African American Vernacular English. Its meaning is not emphatic, the extra negative words actually agree with the first negative (n't in this case) just like "any" in a standard English sentence: "I can't have any money"

I don't know about "Do you want them tomatoes" specifically but it seems like "them" is replacing "those" which isn't too crazy.

The important part is that there's no such thing as speaking "incorrectly" if you're a native speaker. Native fluency is the definition of your language, anything a native speaker says intentionally (not mistakes) is acceptable.


The first two aren't grammatically wrong, they just don't say what people typically mean when they say them.

  • If by that you mean they must be understood as double negatives, I would disagree. – McGurk May 24 '14 at 18:23
  • Seems fairly clear cut to me. Not sure how you disagree. – Tanath Jun 3 '14 at 22:50
  • Because in AAE as well as other dialects of English, the sentence: "I don't want no fries" Is actually 100% exactly equivalent to: "I don't want any fries" You probably aren't realizing that "any" is a negative tag marker in "negative" contexts, exactly as "no" in the first sentence above. – McGurk Jul 12 '14 at 15:50
  • I think standard English is assumed here, and the status of AAE seems debatable. If double-negatives imply the opposite in AAE then that doesn't bode well for it. – Tanath Jul 16 '14 at 20:32
  • The point is that this sentence doesn't exist in standard English. The only speakers who would negative concord are AAE speakers. There's the prosodic option of "I don't want NO fries (I want SOME)" which is a double negative and is proper English. But those sentences are totally different in form so of course they differ in function. – McGurk Oct 30 '14 at 17:50

They aren't proper English, no. If you think about:

I don't have no money.

it actually means 'I have money'; it's an example of a double negative, and as such means the exact opposite of what the speaker wanted to convey.

  • 1
    Sure, in standard English it would be a double negative. This is not the case in the dialect, however. – McGurk May 24 '14 at 18:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.