Negative concord

“I don't never heard of that before.”

(Feagin 1979)


“Nothing don't come to a sleeper but a dream.”

(Green 2002)


Negative concord, popularly known as double negatives, is a phenomenon in which more than one negative element occurs in a sentence, but the sentence is interpreted as only being negated once. Below are three examples (with roughly equivalent paraphrases in standard English given in quotes):

1) I ain't never been drunk.
    'I've never been drunk.'
    (Alabama English; Feagin 1979)

2) Nobody ain't doin' nothing' wrong.
'Nobody is doing anything wrong.'
(West Texas English; Foreman 1999)

3) I don't never have no problems.
'I don't ever have any problems.'
(African American English; Green 2002)

Who says this?

Negative concord is a widespread phenomenon across many varieties of English. In the literature, it is discussed for the following varieties of North American English: Alabama White English (Feagin 1979), African American English (Labov et al. 1968; Labov 1972; Green 2002; White-Sustaita 2010), Appalachian English (Wolfram & Christian 1976), and West Texas English (Foreman 1999).

Syntactic properties

Negative concord can appear in a number of configurations. The configurations discussed below involve two types of negation: sentential negation and neg-words. Sentential negation refers to negation of the entire sentence achieved by negating the auxiliary or modal, such as by turning can to can't or turning would to wouldn't. Neg-words are negative words such as never, no, and nobody.

The first type of negative concord is the co-occurrence of sentential negation with neg-words after the negated auxiliary or modal, as in (4) and (5):

4) I don't eat no biscuit.
     (Alabama White English; Feagin 1979)

5) I ain't never lost a fight.
(African American English; Labov 1972)

Secondly, it is also possible to have neg-words in the subject position co-occurring with sentential negation, as in (6) and (7):

6) Nobody couldn't handle him.
     (Appalachian English; Wolfram & Christian 1976)

7) And neither of the boys can't play a lick of it.
(Alabama White English; Feagin 1979)

Thirdly, there can be co-occurrence of neg-words in an embedded clause with sentential negation in the main clause (with the possibility of neg-words in the main clause as well), as in (8) and (9):

8) I don' 'spect I ever kin reckomember much no more.
     (African Nova Scotian English; Schneider 1989)

9) I don't feel like nobody pets me.
(Alabama White English; Feagin 1979)

Finally, there can be sentential negation in both the main clause and the embedded clause (with the possibility of neg-words in either or both of the clauses), as in (10) and (11):

10) We ain't never really had no tornadoes in this area here that I don't remember.
      (Alabama White English; Feagin 1979)

11) It ain't no cat can't get in no coop.
(African American English; Labov 1972)

There is variation in the types of negative concord that different English varieties allow. For an overview, see Smith (2001).

Negative concord in the literature

See data points from the literature on the map or browse them in spreadsheet format.

Page contributed by Sabina Matyiku on June 11, 2011

Updates/revisions: August 22, 2015 (Tom McCoy); June 20, 2018 (Katie Martin)

Please cite this page as: Matyiku, Sabina. 2011. Negative concord. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/negative-concord. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD). Updated by Tom McCoy (2015) and Katie Martin (2018).

References

Phenomenon Category: 
Negation
Phenomenon Dialect: 
African American (Vernacular) English
Appalachian English
Chicano English
Smoky Mountain English
Southern American English