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Test PrepSATWritingDouble Negatives

SAT Writing Skill Review: Double Negatives

In math, two negatives make a positive. The same is true in writing. If we use two negatives, each invalidates the other.

For example, consider the sentence:

I don’t have no marbles.

If I don’t have no marbles, the two negatives (don’t and no) cancel each other out, leaving you, in effect, with the following:

I don’t have no marbles.

Thus, I must have some marbles! So here’s the rule:

When you want to make a negative statement, you should use only one negative word.

Common negative words include nothing, none, never, not, neither, scarcely, barely, hardly, and without.


Identify the error in the sentence below:

Let’s try the same sentence, but as an Improving Sentences question.

2. I couldn’t never have finished that difficult job by myself.

    (A)  I couldn’t never have finished
    (B)  I could never have finished
    (C)  I couldn’t have never finished
    (D)  I could have not finished
    (E)  I couldn’t have not finished

Answers and Explanations

  1. The correct answer is A. Since the sentence already utilizes a negative word that you are stuck with (couldn’t), you don’t need the second one (never). Never could be replaced with ever or removed altogether. 
  2. The correct answer is B. Choice A is wrong as it contains a double negative (couldn’t never). Choice C has the same double negative, but just relocates the word never. Choices D and E change the meaning of the sentence and are just plain old awkward. Choice B corrects the double negative by removing one of the negatives (couldn’t becomes could). Notice that the sentence could also be correct by changing it to I couldn’t have finished… or I couldn’t ever have finished…. Don’t get hung up on correcting a sentence in a specific way. Instead, be open to other possibilities when looking at answer choices.

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