Double/Triple Negation in Portuguese

I came across this article:

I hope that learners new to the language will find this useful:

Portuguese language allows double negation in the same sentence, two negatives don't make a positive. In English, on the other hand, a sentence such as “I don’t want no coffee” (Eu não quero nenhum café) means “I want coffee” (Eu quero café). (At least in theory, that is. I think that colloquially anything goes, as intonation is a very important factor). Double negation in Portuguese, however, is a way to give emphasis to a negative statement.

Eu não quero nenhuma salada.
Eu não entendi nada.
Eu não conheço ninguém.
Eu não tenho nada a declarar.
Eu nunca disse nada.

Moreover, triple negation is also possible. This is very common in spoken communication.

Eu não quero nenhuma salada não.
Eu não entendi nada não.
Eu não conheço ninguém não.
Eu não tenho nada a declarar não.
Eu nunca disse nada não.

So, spice up your Portuguese. Triple your negatives!


April 7, 2017


[deactivated user]

    Triple negatives are also possible in writing, e.g. "Eu não disse nada a ninguém" I didn't tell anyone anything.

    Adding não at the end of a sentence like that is more common in Brazil, we don't usually do that in Portugal.

    April 7, 2017

    No Brasil usamos muito isso em conversas diárias. Bom, eu realmente não sabia que em inglês um ''double negative'' poderia ter outro significado, tomarei cuidado.

    April 7, 2017

    Yep! There are some American English dialects in which the double negative has the same meaning that it would in Portuguese or French - where "I don't want no coffee" means the speaker actually doesn't want any coffee at all - but those dialects tend to be viewed and often portrayed negatively. In what I think of as Standard American English, it's more like...

    "I don't want any coffee" = I do not want coffee, I do not want any at all. "I don't want no coffee" = I do not wish to have no coffee at all; I want a nonzero amount of coffee.

    The latter would be used rarely, with the emphasis on the no, and usually as a direct contradiction to the presumption that the speaker would, in fact, want no coffee. So for example, "I don't want no coffee! I just said I didn't want too much!" or "I don't want no coffee! I know I said I was cutting back, but let's be reasonable here!" Or similar. In general, your first negative negates the rest of your sentence, whether it has a negative in it or not.

    We tend to get confused above two negatives. So "I don't not want no coffee" would get you a really weird look while the person you were talking with mentally parsed it. We tend to treat that kind of thing as word puzzles.

    April 10, 2017

    On what planet would a fluent speaker of English ever say: "I do not wish to have no coffee at all"?...Or "I want a nonzero amount of coffee"?

    It is correct that in some AmE varients, specifically AAVE or its sister dialect "Southern American English," double negatives are more prevalent...but using them can hurt you professionally and academically. Brazilians refer to this as "preconceito linguistico".

    April 16, 2017

    On the planet where she was trying to explain to a nonfluent speaker what double negatives meant...?

    Both of those are awkward ways of saying it, because they are attempts to convey the concept in a way that doesn't use the double negative - since simply using it doesn't work when it's the thing under discussion. They're perfectly comprehensible, however.

    And you will find repeated negatives used as word puzzles. Usually when someone's being very silly; you may occasionally get it in novels, webcomics, etc. too. One I recall, a parody of a software license agreement I believe, started "I do not refuse to..." and then went on for a couple more negatives, making it completely confusing and very hard to parse - which of course was the point of it.

    And yes, AAVE was exactly what I had in mind. Hence "viewed and portrayed negatively." Muito obrigada pela tradução; eu não sabia como dizer isso em português.

    April 17, 2017

    Isso é verdade... a gente faz muito! Ainda tem a versão de quatro negações: "Não, eu não quero nada não" hahaha

    April 14, 2017

    Não não, não quero nada de ninguém não.

    April 18, 2017

    Kkkkkkkkkkkk aí já é uma negação depois de muito insistirem

    April 19, 2017

    English does allow the double negative when dealing with sensitive issues or when there is a need to be indirect. From the VOA site:

    "In 2012, President Obama spoke at United Nations about the Iran nuclear issue and said:

    “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time to do so. But that time is not unlimited.”

    When Obama said, “Time is not unlimited,” the negative “not” and the negative prefix “un” cancel each other out. What Obama communicated was that time is limited for an agreement with Iran. Politicians, lawyers and diplomats use this type of double negative in sensitive situations."

    On a more mundane level, it is not uncommon (that means it is common!) to hear a comment like "that is not unlike Mary to act that way" meaning "that is so typical of Mary to act like that" (said indirectly it seems less critical.)

    April 16, 2017

    Great text. I didn't want to widen the discussion too much, but the use of such constructions is an example of a rhetorical principle called litotes. From wikipedia: Litotes (/ˈlaɪtətiːz/,[1] US /ˈlɪtətiːz/ or /laɪˈtoʊtiːz/) is a figure of speech that uses understatement to emphasize a point by stating a negative to further affirm a positive.
    Actually, using double negative is a coincidental factor. More generally, litotes include things like: "This is no small matter" = "This is significant". The use of "not un-" could be viewed as a special case, "not unhappy" = "not quite happy".

    April 16, 2017

    If I know well, books on English grammar prohibit the double negation. In fact, less educated people use it like "Ain't got no home".

    April 17, 2017

    "Less educated"???? smh, y'all always use that phrase for people who speak AAVE or SAE. Actually people who use "ain't" or the sentence you used are not "dumb/less educated".

    May 7, 2018

    Actually, all your double negations are the standard if you use any of those words. It's not emphasis, it's how we speak.

    April 18, 2017

    You're right. I translated the original text. I think that the phrase "serve para dar ênfase à negativa" is a bit misleading. I mean, it is a general principle in languages with double negation that two negatives don't cancel each other out, but reinforce (I think this is a better word here than emphasize) each other.

    April 18, 2017
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