No plus no equals yes

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but can two negatives make a positive?


Imagine you’re at the doctor’s because your left knee is swollen, sore and tender. She gently presses on it, making you wince and yelp Ouch. She says That hurts, doesn’t it? and you reply Yes, it does.

Your right knee looks ok. But to be sure, the doctor also presses that, asking That doesn’t hurt, does it? There’s no pain so you confirm by answering Yes.

As a native-speaker, she’s now confused.

The doctor thinks the right knee does not hurt and she expected you to agree by saying No, it doesn’t.

Which sounds weird to non-native ears.

But in English, two negatives can make a positive.

Here are some more examples:

Andrew’s not coming on Friday, is he?
No, he’s not.
= It’s true that Andrew is not coming on Friday.

You don’t take milk in your coffee, do you?
No, I don’t.
= It’s true that I do not put milk in my coffee.

We didn’t invite Anna to the party, did we?
No, we didn’t.
= It’s true that we did not invite Anna.

So to agree with negative statements like these, the reply is no.

See here, here and here for other common confusions.

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© Christina Wielgolawski




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