ENGLISCH/939: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (203) - I don't go nowhere (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

... now I would like to know, which of the following statement is correct English: "I went nowhere" or "I didn't go nowhere"? I heard the second one in an interview on the radio, but I thought, there is something wrong with this sentence, isn't it?

Natalja St. (Ukraine)


Dear Ms St

Yes, you are right, "I went nowhere" is grammatically correct. It is not correct to have a negative verb form "didn't go" followed by another negative form "nowhere" in the same clause. In this case, it is also being used incorrectly for the context.

The double negative is apparent by the two negations. One is a negation of the verb "Do" and the other is the negation of the implicit pronoun "somewhere":
Didn't (Did not) and nowhere (no place).

So essentially that clause is saying "I did not go to no place" which is logically equivalent to "I went to some place."

Nevertheless the double negation is quite often used in conversational English and getting more and more popular. It's the sort of thing you hear in the lyrics of popsongs or on TV. The double negative is used to strengthen the negative statement. But sentences like "I didn't go nowhere" are seen as ungrammatical, especially in Standard British English. And it cannot be used in more formal conversations or in written English. So the grammatical correct way of saying this is:

"I went nowhere."

Or even more likely a British native speaker of English would say:

"I didn't go anywhere."

Again: Double negatives are technically not wrong. But they are definitely not recommended, because it can be very confusing to follow the real meaning. Just think of the following request, e.g. to a person in front of the television:

"Don't go nowhere, I'll be right back!"

The irony, however, is that the speaker does not want the viewer to move from his current seat because he wants the viewer to continue watching the program in order to tell him about it later. To be grammatical, the speaker should have said:

"Don't go anywhere; I'll be right back!"

However, the way it is originally phrased is very common in some parts of the English-speaking world, e.g. in the southern United States. So it would be perfectly acceptable to put it that way and most people would understand the intention. In American English, especially in television series you will even more frequently find the following version:

"You ain't goin' nowhere."

Which is not correct, very slangy, but as I said before becomes more and more common even in British everyday's English.

Miranda Gobbledygook

12. Juli 2018

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