Can This Not Help But Be a Double Negative?

Double negatives come in many flavors in addition to the familiar “we didn’t find no money” type. Our friends at the website Language Log keep an archive of documented cases of “misnegation,” featuring popular head-scratchers like “I can’t help but not be X,” “I don’t doubt that X,” “You couldn’t fail to miss X,” and “X should not be underestimated.”

Misnegation is what happens when a writer gets tangled in more than one negative. New in the 17th edition of CMOS is an entire section on negation (5.230–38) covering the use of no, not, neither, and nor, as well as words like barely and except and other tricky constructions that turn a sentence from positive to negative and vice versa.

Sometimes two negatives imply a positive. “He didn’t not like it” implies that he was at least neutral. But often enough two negatives lead to ambiguity. Paring back a sentence to include only one negative term or phrasing as a clear positive is usually the solution. The new sections in CMOS 17 can acquaint you with the most common negative constructions.

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What Is #ChicagoStyle?

Chicago style is named for The Chicago Manual of Style, a reference book for writers and editors first published by the University of Chicago Press in 1906 and now in its 17th edition.

In the 1930s, the Press published Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, often called simply “Turabian,” and soon to be in its 9th edition.

Both books are official sources for Chicago style and are internationally recognized for their authority.  Take a look at the tables of contents of CMOS and Turabian to see at a glance the issues that each book covers.

For more help deciding which book might be right for you, read the Shop Talk post “Help! I Have to Use Chicago Style!

Top photo: Yes, by Gordon Johnson, courtesy


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