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You can get away with double (and triple) negatives if you are:

Bob Marley (One Foundation)
“There will never be no love at all.”
Groucho Marx
“I cannot say that I do not disagree with you.”
Pink Floyd (Another Brick in the Wall)
“We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control.”

Readers mentally stutter over negatives and double negatives. There are no short cuts around just reading your text to find and replace negatives with easier to understand positives.
However, you can fine-tune your ear with practice.

Be sure to watch out for ordinary words with negative meanings:

  • unless
  • fail to
  • notwithstanding
  • except
  • other than
  • unlawful
  • unresponsive
  • disallow
  • terminate
  • void
  • insufficient

To give you some practice, here are some examples that student reviewers found in their colleagues’ work. Locate the negative phrases and then revise the sentence.

To get you started, here's one we revised.

It takes 310 people and an annual budget of 33 million dollars to administer the charity section of the Canadian Revenue Agency, but there is no reason not to believe that higher reporting duties especially coupled with the enforcement regime put in place by this bill would not result in costs to the taxpayers themselves.

The Canadian Revenue Agency’s charity section currently employs 310 staff and spends 33 million dollars annually. Taxpayers can expect increased administration costs from the new bill’s reporting and enforcement regimes.

Now you try these.

 

Sentence 1

A court will likely find that Mr. Arkin could not determine who was responsible for the damages he sustained without a second opinion.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
A court wll likely find that Mr. Arkin could not determine who was responsible for the damages he sustained without a second opinion. A court will likely find that Mr. Arkin needed a second opinion to determine who was responsible for the damages.
Sentence 2

The manager testified that he told the employee that if she did not arrive on time, her job could no longer be guaranteed.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
The manager testified that he told the employee that if she did not arrive on time, her job could no longer be guaranteed. The manager testified that he told the employee that she had to arrive on time to guarantee her job.
Sentence 3

No more than twenty pages can be submitted in a brief supporting the motion to dismiss.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
No more than twenty pages can be submitted in a brief supporting the motion to dismiss. A brief in support of a motion to dismiss must be twenty pages or less.
Sentence 4

The court reversed the municipal board’s decision that overturned the city regulation that prohibited people from walking dogs with or without a leash in public parks.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
The court reversed the municipal board’s decision that overturned the city regulation that prohibited people from walking dogs with or without a leash in public parks. The court reviewed the municple board's decision and upheld the city's regulation prohibiting dogs in public parks.
Sentence 5

“No pets” clauses are impermissible lease provisions under the Residential Tenancies Act, but the Act would not prohibit a landlord from evicting a tenant with a troublesome dog.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
“No pets” clauses are impermissible lease provisions under the Residential Tenancies Act, but the Act would not prohibit a landlord from evicting a tenant with a troublesome dog. The Residential Tenancies Act prohibts “no pets” clauses in leases, but allows a landord to evict a tenant with a troublesome dog.
Sentence 6

The consumer protection agency in no way concedes the point that mutual mistake is not a defense to the contract.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
The consumer protection agency in no way concedes the point that mutual mistake is not a defense to the contract. The consumer protection agency maintains that mutual mistake is a valid contract defense.
Sentence 7

No approval of any use by tenants of the basement recreation room may be implied in the absence of the housing committee’s express approval.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
No approval of any use by tenants of the basement recreation room may be implied in the absence of the housing committee’s express approval. Tenants must get the housing committee’s approval to use the basement recreation room.
Sentence 8

This contract shall not be valid unless it is signed by the seller.

Original Sentence Suggested Rewrite
This contract shall not be valid unless it is signed by the seller. This contract requires the seller’s signature.

Exercise

Change the double negative To a positive See our suggestion
no fewer than … Suggestionat least
not infrequently … Suggestionfrequently
may not … until Suggestionmay only … when
is not … unless Suggestionis … only if
no small part Suggestionlarge part
not uncommon Suggestioncommon
not uncomplicated Suggestioncomplicated