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    #1

    What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Dear teachers,

    The day before, I read a three-paragraph post on Reddit, which goes as follows:


    (In order to let you better understand how my question arose, I got the whole post typed below and have the sentence of "double negative" underlined, which is what my question is about.)

    Regarding their rebel flag on the Mississippi flag...I just learned they added it in the 50s to send the specific message they are a segregated state (the sentence of "I just learned they ...are a segregated state" was marked as something crossed out in the original post)It was flown in pro-segregation rallies along with the "rebel flag". So shameless how racist people were back then. It blows my mind how many people don't believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America.

    Half of Americans until the late 80s didn't believe in interracial dating, you're telling me this didn't affect job, education, and legal system treatment of blacks?

    It's almost sickening how little we do to identify and fix these problems.



    My question is, what does the underlined sentence actually mean? Is it that here in this sentence the second negative acts only as an intensifier to the first negative and they do not resolve to a positive?(I am borrowing the way of explaining the issue from wikipedia) I mean the underlined sentence means "I am surprised that many people don't believe these types of actions by the government could have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America" or "I am surprised that many people believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America", does it?

    Looking forward to your replies. Thanks.

    Richard

  1. teechar's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    It is badly written, and certainly that double negative is confusing.
    It should have said:

    "It blows my mind how many people don't believe these types of actions by the government could have resulted in ... etc."

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    #3

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    It is badly written, and certainly that double negative is confusing.
    It should have said:

    "It blows my mind how many people don't believe these types of actions by the government could have resulted in ... etc."
    Thanks, teechar.

    As this is a post in a thread on Reddit over the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina, the post is certainly written in colloquial English, which is usually nonstandard. I think this poster is an African American guy. To my knowledge, American blacks use "double negative" only to intensify a negative very often.


    Here is a follow-up question for you, teechar. If I want to make the sentence a bit formal, may I say "It surprises me that many people don't believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America" instead? Please note that I have omitted "how" before "many" . Please give me a further reply. Thanks for your time and help.

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    #4

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    I think this poster is an African American guy.
    I have no idea, and I think that's irrelevant to be honest.

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    To my knowledge, American blacks use "double negative" only to intensify a negative very often.
    I'm not sure what you mean by "American blacks", but if it's a reference to African Americans, then do you have the evidence for your claim?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    If I want to make the sentence a bit formal, may I say "It surprises me that many people don't believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America" instead?
    That's just as erroneous as it also uses a double negative!

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmyrichard View Post
    I have omitted "how" before "many."
    That doesn't make much difference.

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    #5

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    I have no idea, and I think that's irrelevant to be honest.


    I'm not sure what you mean by "American blacks", but if it's a reference to African Americans, then do you have the evidence for your claim?


    That's just as erroneous as it also uses a double negative!


    That doesn't make much difference.
    Thanks, teechar.

    I have googled "American blacks" and "Black Americans" respectively and have found that the latter is more often used to refer to African Americans. However, I am still not sure whether "American blacks" is something incorrect.

    I am very sorry to have forgotten to drop the former of the two negatives in my revised sentence.

    As to whether African Americans more often use the double negative, please take a look at post # 7, paragraph 2 on the webpage of http://forum.wordreference.com/threa...no-one.874061/. Having said that, wikipedia tells us that much earlier in the history of the English language, the use of the double negative was standard English and prevalent. For example, there is a lot of use of it in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

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    #6

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Your link to the Word Reference Forum is to the opinion of one person.

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    #7

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeNewYork View Post
    Your link to the Word Reference Forum is to the opinion of one person.
    OK. Then let's forget about African Americans, please focus on my follow-up question in post #3:If I want to make the sentence a bit formal, may I say "It surprises me that many people believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America" instead?

    Could it be that the Reddit poster said "how many" but actually meant "many"? I feel that this happens very often in colloquial English by native speakers. Am I right on this? And how about my revision in the previous paragraph of this post if we want to make the original sentence a little bit formal so that it can be used in a, say, student writing situation?
    Last edited by ohmyrichard; 30-Jun-2015 at 09:49.

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    #8

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    For me:

    It surprises me how many (I am surprised by the number)
    It surprises me that many (I am surprised that the number is large)

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    #9

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    For me:

    It surprises me how many (I am surprised by the number)
    It surprises me that many (I am surprised that the number is large)
    Thanks for replying to my post, Tdol.

    Let me make clear that I intended "that" in "It surprises me that many ..." to lead a that-clause rather than intensify "many".

    I have been thinking about the subtle difference between the colloquial version and the written version of the same sentence. How shall we put in formal writing situations "It blows my mind how many people don't believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America" ? Can we keep it wholly intact in formal writing situations or do we have to change it to something like "It surprises me many people believe these types of actions by the government couldn't have resulted in the wealth disparity we see between blacks and whites in America"?

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    #10

    Re: What does this double negative sentence mean?

    I think 'how' should not be omitted or the original meaning will be changed, but I am not a teacher.

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