Can You Use a Double Negative in English?

Can You Use a Double Negative in English?

Mar 12

Many languages not only allow for double negatives, but even require them. In English we are taught to avoid them like the plague. Unwittingly, many teachers insist there are no double negatives in English. While, according to the spirit of things, they may be right, technically it just is not quite so cut and dry. What is a double negative? Well, traditionally, it is illustrated with the kind of usage: I don’t want to not go to the dance. Double negatives, however, are the usage of a negative twice in the same sentence. Sometimes it is justified and sometimes it is not. We will see cases of both. The correction to the double negative in our example is not so simple, actually. Some teachers might approach it mathematically and say it means I want to go to the dance, simply eliminating the two negatives (two negatives make a positive in Mathematics). That is impossible here, though. It is saying the person is not against going to the dance, not that they actually are looking forward to it. So the correct sentence would look something like this I am not opposed to going to the dance or I am not against going to the dance or Going to the dance is not a bad idea. As you can see, correcting double negatives is not a simple task. Let’s try another one: Analyzing the data was not impossible. Yes, this is actually a double negative, though it is permitted by nearly every English teacher in the world. Im- is a prefix that negates the adjective to which it is attached. The corrected sentence is straight forward and you do not lose any of the sense that was attempted with the double negative: Analyzing the data was possible. Other negating prefixes are categorized similarly to im-, such as de-, un-, etc…  However, we are now seeing that double negatives are actually allowed in English. When we get to the level of dialogs we find another interesting double negative that is usually not allowed in other languages, which provide safe harbor for the kind that English disallows. Consider: John: Did you go to the movies last night with Julie? Tom: No, I didn’t. Tom is already answering with the negative when he says No, so why would he have to say not after the verb did? He is answering in the negative again...

Tropes and Schemes — Sneaky Sounding Figures Of Speech

Tropes and Schemes — Sneaky Sounding Figures Of Speech

Dec 01

At first glance, the words ‘Tropes and Schemes’ probably seem rather sneaky sounding and even distrustful. So what does it mean? Is it a way of saying that you are misleading the reader through your writing? Perhaps a way of writing mystery novels? Is it when the character is being diabolical? Maybe you are playing a prank as the author. Actually, it is none of these, and the words are not nearly as sneaky as they sound. In fact, both ‘tropes’ and ‘schemes’ have the same basic meaning: they both denote change. That’s right, each is just a fancy way of saying that something in the sentence, paragraph of literary section is about to be altered in some way that is perhaps unexpected. But this being said, they do not both have the exact same definition. What Are Tropes? The basic definition of a trope is using a phrase, word or visual description in a way that is not strictly expected or usual. A trope will change the context of any situation by altering the way it is interpreted. A simile is an example of a trope. With this form of rhetoric you take two objects not connected by anything but vague similarities. “Looking into her eyes, I couldn’t help but think they were green like forests untouched by the hand of man.” Notice that this use of a simile changes words and phrases to give them a meaning other than what might be expected in its more direct form. An oxymoron and metaphor are two other examples of how tropes are used. What Are Schemes? No, they aren’t plans by a megalomaniac to take over the world. They are a rhetoric device that changes the regular order or pattern of a piece of writing. Unlike tropes that work to shift the meaning of something, the scheme will just change the format. This is usually seen in creative writing, where it is more forgivable to break with tradition and use imaginative methods of conveying any point to the reader. Anaphora is a good example of of a scheme. This is when you repeat the first part of a sentence over and over again to help push a point or convince the person reading or listening. “I did not back out of my campaign promises. I did not fail to increase the education budget. I did not stop putting pressure...

Can You Start a Sentence With ‘Although’?

Can You Start a Sentence With ‘Although’?

Nov 01

There has been a slightly unusual question asked as of late about the use of ‘although’ (or, in some cases, just ‘though’). The basis of the confusion seems to be on what kind of word it is, as far as part of speech goes. Many people don’t seem to realize that it is a conjunction, and so is specifically used to link words in the same was as ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘and’ or ‘however’. When they learn this, it tends to bring up another issue, one that we have spoken about several times on this blog: can you use it to start a sentence? As we all know by now, the use of conjunctions as anything but a later link in a sentence is very controversial. In most English classes it is deemed completely unacceptable, and will lead to points being taken off of the final grade of your paper. Even other classes where essays are written might be a stickler for this point, which can be frustrating for the student. So, we will reiterate the point about conjunctions themselves. Past Versus Present English Rules Prior to the 1800’s, it was perfectly acceptable to use a word like ‘although’ at the beginning of a sentence. In fact, no one would even blink an eye at you if you did. It was as ordinary as any other kind of word, as long as the context was proper. It was also generally understood that too many sentences beginning with such words was in bad form, but that was a guideline more than a rule. When the era moved into the Victorian period, the way people wrote began to change. Form was shifted and the descriptive nature of most texts was very different. For example, the way the story of Gulliver’s Travels was told by Jonathan Swift was significantly unique to the way that Wuthering Heights was told by Emily Bronte. Basic rules about what was accepted in structure was also very different. Conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence were seen as incomplete, and given the language common at the time, this is understandable. But it became less relevant as English began to shift again. By the 1920’s, the change was so marked that the rule was no longer as applicable as it was before. Now, language has become much less formal and slang is accepted more freely as proper vocabulary. Sentences...

Can You Start a Sentence With ‘And’?

Can You Start a Sentence With ‘And’?

Apr 30

Starting a sentence the right way is important in any writing endeavor. It helps to solidify the rest of the paragraph, and so keep you grounded as you move on to tie everything together. Despite this, the term “right” is often subjective in English. Because of the prominence of slang, changing trends in the language, and especially the loose rules when it comes to expression in free form creativity, what is “right” might not always be the same for everyone. It makes it tricky to give a clear set of guidelines when it comes to where to use certain words, as long as they apply to the overall context. ‘And’ is a really good example of this problem. Normally, it is a conjunction which is used to tie two concepts together. It unifies a sentence, tying together words, phrases and clauses. It isn’t really meant to stand alone, and so putting it at the beginning or end of a sentence would seem like an obvious no-no. But there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to the use of ‘and’ as a sentence opener. We learn early on that it should never be used to begin a thought. Yet it is still so often applied that it has become a rule ignored for the sake of conveying a sentence in the way it appears in our minds. The ‘And’ Rule Getting this out of the way: no, you cannot use ‘and’ to begin a sentence when using proper English rules in writing. It is a conjunction, and so is only meant to be used in that context. Applying it to the beginning of anything may make it appear to be a fragmented thought or an incomplete sentence. That being said, a lot of people say you cannot use ‘but’ or ‘however’, among other words, to begin sentences. These, like ‘and’, are often rules completely ignored by writers. Look Versus Sound The issue is that while it might look fragmented, sometimes using ‘and’ just sounds right. We often write according to the way the words flow within our minds, and the reader will end up experiencing it the same way. That flow can shift on the slightest change in writing form, and so many writers will ignore the basic laws of grammar and lean more toward the creative side of the field. This means that they will start...

What Are Contractions? Understanding Contractions, Abbreviations, and Acronyms

What Are Contractions? Understanding Contractions, Abbreviations, and Acronyms

Mar 11

In an era of tweets and text messages, there is widespread usage of contraction in our writing. Some decry such contraction as the demise of formal English. Luckily, English does provide us with various instruments of contraction. In its simplest form, a contraction could be understood as a reduction in size of a word or a group of words. Some common methods to achieve contraction are: 1) Abbreviation: Loosely, all contractions are abbreviations. However, the term abbreviation usually refers to a series of letters taken from a word or phrase. For example, the word Doctor can be abbreviated as Dr. or informally as doc. It is interesting that the word abbreviation itself is so long an unwieldy. One question which is not well answered is, “Should abbreviations end in a period?” For instance, is it Dr or Dr. Likewise, is it U.S.A. or USA? Increasingly grammarians are accepting abbreviations without a period as the correct form. 2) Acronym: I like to think of an acronym as a word formed by using the initial letters of a group of words. As a result, it is also called initialism. An acronym example could be LASER, which stands for Light Amplification Through Stimulated Emission of Radiation. As acronyms get absorbed into language, they are no longer written using capital letters. An example of this is, once again: laser. 3) Contractions are rather simple. Did not is contracted as didn’t, while I am is contracted as I’m. If you look again, you will notice that while contracting do not and I am, I introduced a punctuation mark. The apostrophe marks the point where contraction occurs. Of course, marking the point of contraction is not the only use of an apostrophe. In a later article, we will attempt to understand apostrophes better. There was a point of time when I would freely use contractions in my writing. However, when I was the Guide to Business Majors at About.com I was informed that contractions are slang, and should be avoided as much as possible. Though I still say don’t quite easily, I have indeed reduced my usage of...

Assonance and Consonance

Assonance and Consonance

Mar 08

I referred to assonance and consonance in my post on alliteration. Today we get to explore them in detail. At one point of time or another, we have come across a poem that truly moves us. It connects with us at a deeper level. If I ask you, “What was it about that poem that was so appealing?” there is a good chance that you will present a rational explanation. But poetry, as an art form, is a little like love. We know it is there, and that we like it, but we cannot always state why. Among other factors, the rhythm and music embedded in poetry causes us to connect with it. There are several literary and poetic devices that make poems appealing. Recently, I wrote about one such textual device, the acrostic. Assonance and consonance are literary devices that help embed sound into text. Assonance Assonance repeats vowel sounds to create a rhythm or beat. One of my favorite examples of assonance is: I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless. ~Thin Lizzy, “With Love” Read that sentence a couple of times. In addition to being a minor tongue twister, you will find that there is nice repeated rhythm set by the es sound. That is an example of assonance. Though assonance can occur in prose or poetry, like alliteration, it is usually found in poetry. Consonance Consonance is similar to assonance in many ways. Except that consonance repeats a consonant sound while assonance repeats a vowel sound. Here is a beautiful example of consonance: Pitter-patter pitter-patter ~Lynsey de Paul, “Storm in a teacup” Notice the extraordinary music being created with the use of the repeated p and tt. Of course in this example Lynsey de Paul has not just embedded the sound of repeated consonants, she has also used onomatopoeia (which now becomes the subject of a future article 🙂 ) Alliteration is a special case of consonance. It is a consonance that repeats the consonant sound at the beginning of words. So, that is it more assonance-consonance. Do come back again to savor still more literary...