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Double negatives

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Double negatives  [#permalink]

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New post 08 Oct 2015, 05:21

Double negatives

I came across this concept through some articles and felt it can be important at times while solving verbal questions. I just collected the material from various articles mentioned in references and presented here. Please help me find some more examples to analyse the concept. Any suggestions are most welcome. :)
I hope this material does not offend any rules of posting. :|

Negative Words

Negative words in English reverse the meaning of other words. In some languages, negation requires negative words and a change to the verb. But in English, we only need a negative word.

These negatives can apply to nouns, verbs, and adverbs, and, as such, can create a little ambiguity. But that’s for another post.
No and not are the most common negative words. Others include nobody, nothing, and never. When using negative words, we don’t have to include no or not. These words alone reverse the meaning.

Using nobody, nothing, and never is quite strong and emphatic. To soften our sentences, we can use alternate forms that have the same meaning, such as not anybody, not anything, and not ever.
One quick rule about negatives—at the beginning of a clause, use the negative words nobody, nothing, and never.
Don’t use the alternate forms with not.

Not anything is clear.
• Nothing is clear.
Not anybody cares.
• Nobody cares.

Double Negatives

When someone uses two or more negative words in a sentence, it’s called a double negative.

This is one of the neater rules in English grammar: Negative words follow the same rules of positive and negative integers in multiplication. Multiply two negative numbers together, and the answer is positive.

Use two negative words in a sentence, and the sentence has a positive meaning.
We can continue with this logic too. Three negatives leads to a negative meaning.

Let’s compare the difference between these two sentences:
• Do nothing. (Don’t act.)
• Don’t just do nothing. We need help. (Don’t just sit there!)

In the first sentence, the command is to not help or act.
In the next sentence, the meaning changes. We now have a positive sentence, and we are implored to help.

In general, double negatives are considered incorrect in formal situations—academic essays, GMAT essays, and Sentence Correction questions. But as with most “rules” in English grammar, exceptions exist.

Double negatives can be used for special stylistic effect in literature or in spoken English. Although, when spoken, it tends to sound old fashioned or unnatural. But even then, sounding old fashioned might be funny, so a double negative can also be used for comedic effect.

Imagine saying this, or even writing it:

• Not every day am I not allowed to not eat my breakfast in peace.
The meaning of this sentence is hard to wade through. There is a better ways to say this—a more concise and direct way.

• Rarely am I not eating my breakfast in peace.
But notice the comedy in this song lyric from “Nobody” written by Bert Williams:

• I ain’t never done nothing to nobody, and I ain’t never got nothing from nobody no time.
The song lyric wouldn’t be as memorable or impactful if it were written:

• I never did anything to a person, and I will not get anything from a person at any time.

Double Negatives in GMAT Sentence Correction

In the 13th edition of The Official Guide to the GMAT, double negatives appear in one question, so it’s not as popular as the tested idiom not only…but also, but it is a testable concept.

Question 21 in Sentence Correction contains a list of three items. At the beginning of the list is a not—“do not contain…” One key to this question is noticing not and choosing an answer choice that does not contain another negative word, such as “nothing.”
One of the splits in this question involves a double negative, and knowing that, gets you closer to the correct answer.

The commission has directed advertisers to restrict the use of the word natural to foods that do not contain color or flavor additives, chemical preservatives, or nothing that has been synthesized.

A. or nothing that has been

B. or that has been

C. and nothing that is

D. or anything that has been

E. and anything

Explanation from OG13

The use of do not and nothing in the same sentence Creates a double negative and reverses the intended meaning.
Anything should be used instead of nothing.
Logically, a "natural" food cannot contain any prohibited ingredient, so the list of prohibited ingredients must be connected by or.

A The use of nothing creates a double negative.
B That has been synthesized distorts the, meaning by referring to foods, rather than to something added to a food.
C The use of nothing creates a double negative; and should be or.
D Correct. This sentence correctly avoids a double negative and uses parallel elements.
E And distorts, the meaning of the sentence.

The correct answer is D.

The double made the choice go incorrect in above sentence correction question. But it is not a rule.

Consider one more example:

While Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger, his courage in the face of physical threats and verbal attacks was not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

(A) not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused
(B) not unlike Rosa Parks, who refused
(C) like Rosa Parks and her refusal
(D) like that of Rosa Parks for refusing
(E) as that of Rosa Parks, who refused

For many, the phrase “not unlike” is a red flag right away.
Your ear may very well abhor that language, and if so you’ll quickly eliminate the white-and-gold answer A and answer B right away.

But A is actually correct, as this sentence requires:
  • “that of” (to compare Jackie Robinson’s courage with Rosa Parks’s courage)
  • “who refused” (to make it clear that Rosa Parks was the one who refused to the back of the bus; with “for refusing” in D it’s unclear who that last portion of the sentence belongs to)

And only choice A includes both, so it has to be right.

What makes this problem tricky? The GMAT testmakers know that:
1) You read left to right and top to bottom
2) Your ear likely won’t take kindly to “not unlike” even though it’s not wrong.

“Not unlike” is saying “it’s not totally different from, even though it’s not the same thing, there is atleast some similarity there” whereas “like” indicates a much closer relationship(i.e., quite similar to). There’s a continuum there, and the phrase “not unlike” has a valid meaning on that continuum of similarity.

And so what do the testmakers do? They:
1) Make “not unlike” vs. “like” the first difference between answer choices, daring you to use your ear before you use your Sentence Correction strategy (look for modifiers, verbs, pronouns, and comparisons first)
2) Put the answer you won’t like (but should pick) first at answer choice A, making it easy for you to eliminate the right answer right away before you start considering the core skills listed in the parentheses above.

few more qns

Double negatives in Critical Reasoning

The quickest way to make a sentence seem lost? The doubly offensive double negative.

In simple terms, a double negative is the use of two negative words in a sentence. From a grammatical standpoint, double negatives are not technically incorrect. However, when used too often throughout an AWA response, they can make an AWA essay far more difficult for the reader to digest.

Consider the two examples below:

  • I often exercise just before dinner.
  • Rarely am I not exercising just before dinner.

Again, these are both grammatically correct.

However, while the first example might seem too simple, the message it conveys is clear. Writers sometimes will use a double negative to add a little nuance to a sentence, but when it comes to crafting a persuasive essay on the GMAT, this is not required.
When in doubt on test day, shorten your sentences and make sure your arguments are clear enough for any grader to evaluate.

Beyond the AWA section, double negatives will appear in surprising ways on test day, and at what often feel like the most inopportune times throughout the verbal section of the GMAT. Below we’ll discuss some subtle ways to make double negatives in answer choices much easier to navigate.

Double negatives in answer choices on the GMAT

Consider the short passage and corresponding answer choices below:

The need for additional youth baseball fields in town is growing in large part because of a recent boom in the overall population of the town. However, the expenses of building these additional fields will have to fall on the residents of the town. Therefore, it will take quite some time to acquire the funds needed to start building new youth baseball fields.

Which of the following statements can be assumed based on this passage?

A. The residents of the town earn low incomes and are therefore not able to build the additional youth baseball fields.

B. The residents of the town do not consider the costs insignificant, which could delay the entire project.

C. The residents of the town are not fans of youth baseball, and because of this lack of desire to increase the sport’s prominence, are not motivated to build new fields.

D. The residents of the town are not uneducated as to the benefits of playing youth baseball, but will have to consider the high costs of building additional fields.

Pay particular attention to answer choices B and D. Answer choice B states that the residents do not consider the costs insignificant. The GMAT in its adaptive nature will increase the difficulty of questions at times by including a double negative, as we see in this instance. However, when we take a second to digest the information, we understand that the statement conveys that the residents believe the costs of new baseball fields are high. If we were to rewrite this without a double negative, we could simply write that the residents consider the costs to be high. In this case, we can simply say the residents are educated as to the benefits of youth baseball. Answer choice D does this as well by using the words “not uneducated,” making it the correct choice.

The Verbal section of the GMAT can be particularly tricky at times not because the questions are particularly difficult, but because they are worded in a way that makes them far more confusing to respond to. However, your increased sensitivity to how double negatives can rear their (sometimes) ugly heads in questions and answer choices on the GMAT can help you separate yourself from the rest of the pack on test day.

Now lets solve one more example from veritas collection

The purpose of a general theory of art is to explain every aesthetic feature that is found in any of the arts. Pre-modern general theories of art, however, focused primarily on painting and sculpture. Every pre-modern general theory of art, even those that succeed as theories of painting or sculpture, fails to explain some aesthetic feature of music.

The statements above, if true, most strongly support which one of following?

(A) Any general theory of art that explains the aesthetic features of painting also explains those of sculpture.
(B) A general theory of art that explains every aesthetic feature of music will achieve its purpose.
(C) Any theory of art that focus primarily on sculpture or painting cannot explain every aesthetic feature of music.
(D) No pre-modern general theory of art achieves its purpose unless music is not art.
(E) No pre-modern general theory of art explains any aesthetic feature of music that is not shared with painting and sculpture.

While choices A, B and C look normal, choices D and E seem to have double negative form of construction and may look a big no in first place. But as we observe

d) No pre-modern general theory of art achieves its purpose unless music is not art.

This means that any Pre-modern theory does not achieve its purpose if music is an art.
As kevin mentioned we have three negatives here, No, unless and not and final meaning is negative.
Just like unless sth is not false means sth is true,Unless music is not art means music is art.
This makes the choice a correct inference as per the argument above.

e) No pre-modern general theory of art explains any aesthetic features of music that are not shared with painting and sculpture.
This means
Pre-modern general theory of art does not explain any aesthetic features of music that are not shared with painting and sculpture.
Pre-modern general theory of art explains any aesthetic features of music that are shared with painting and sculpture.

No sharing of features among music, painting and sculpture is mentioned in the argument.
pre-modern general theory of art does not explain some features of music not any or all. Not true based on argument

one more veritas question with double negative in the argument conclusion itself. The question can be ref at this link.

Although some people claim it is inconsistent to support freedom of speech and also support legislation limiting the amount of violence in TV programs, it is not. We can limit TV program content because the damage done by violent programs is more harmful than the decrease in freedom of speech that would result from the limitations envisioned by the legislation.

Which one of the following principles, if valid, most helps to justify Raymond's reasoning?

A) In evaluating legislation that would impinge on a basic freedom, we should consider the consequences of not passing the legislation

B) One can support freedom of speech while at the same time recognizing that other interests can sometimes override

C) When facing a choice between restricting freedom of speech or not, we must decide based on what would make the greatest number of people the happiest

D) If the exercise of a basic freedom leads to some harm, then the exercise of that freedom should be restricted.

E) In some circumstances, we should tolerate regulations that impinge on a basic freedom.

“it is not inconsistent to support both freedom of speech and legislation limiting TV violence.” This can be simplified to get rid of the double negative: “it is consistent to support both freedom of speech and legislation limiting TV violence.” The notion of consistency in support two conflicting ideas is new to the argument; the concept is not found elsewhere. Thus, we need to find an answer choice that bridges this logical gap.

CR from GMATPREP (a-major-chemical-spill-occurred-five-years-ago-at-baker-s-65606.html)

A major chemical spill occurred five years ago at Baker’s Beach, the world’s sole nesting ground for Merrick sea turtles, and prevented nearly all the eggs laid that year from hatching. Yet the number of adult female Merricks returning to lay their eggs at Baker’s Beach has actually increased somewhat since five years ago. Clearly, environmentalists’ prediction that the world’s Merrick population would decline as a result of the spill has proven unfounded.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the argument offered in refutation of the environmentalists’ prediction?

Lets us analyze the question part.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the argument offered in refutation of the environmentalists’ prediction?

or strengthen the environmentalist prediction?

Environmentalist predicted that Merrick population would decline as a result of the spill.

The argument disapproved it saying that since no of adult female Merricks returning to lay their eggs at Baker’s Beach has actually increased somewhat since five years ago, Merrick population did not decline because of the spill.

Inorder to address the question above either we have weaken the argument evidence regarding increase in adult female Merricks arrival or we have to prove that Merrick population decreased because of the spill.

Thus we see that Double negative cannot be eliminated blindly.

Few more questions for practice.


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Re: Double negatives  [#permalink]

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New post 06 May 2019, 20:30
Hello from the GMAT Club VerbalBot!

Thanks to another GMAT Club member, I have just discovered this valuable topic, yet it had no discussion for over a year. I am now bumping it up - doing my job. I think you may find it valuable (esp those replies with Kudos).

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Re: Double negatives   [#permalink] 06 May 2019, 20:30
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