English grammar - Double negatives

English grammar - Double negatives

I was reading a book the other day. In the book, a university student says: 

"There is nothing I can't do."

This is a common phrase that uses 2 negative words in a sentence. 

"There is nothing I can't do."

Nothing = no thing. Can't = can not.
 This is the same as saying "I can do anything."

Word order is important!

If we change the sentence pattern a little the sentence becomes strange.

"I can't do nothing." ???

English grammar - Double negatives

In this sentence pattern, the 2 negatives would actually make a positive.

● Remember: 
Nothing = no thing. Can't = can not. So this sentence is saying "I can not do no thing." If you can't do no thing, can you do something?

The meaning is confusing so this sentence is not acceptable.

"I can't do nothing."

What about our first sentence "There is nothing I can't do." Is it correct grammar? According to Oxford Dictionaries.com 
Double negatives are still widely used in English where they don’t seem to cause any confusion as to the intended meaning. Nevertheless, they aren’t considered acceptable in current standard English and you should avoid them in all but very informal situations. Just use a single negative instead.
So the sentence "There is nothing I can't do." is not correct grammar, but it is acceptable in less formal situations because the meaning is clear.

English grammar - Double negatives

Many song lyrics sometimes will use a double negative for effect, for the art of songwriting, but we don't use these in conversation. If you told me you "can't get no satisfaction" I would correct your grammar. 

But if you sang...

English grammar - Double negatives

I would understand that incorrect grammar can make the song more interesting! ♫

Let's look at how we express ourselves in more detail and we'll look closely at negatives.

There are 3 basic ways to communicate, affirmative (positive), negative and interrogative (question).

(+) "Eric likes pizza."                  "She's bored."

(-) "Eric doesn't like pizza."        "She's not bored."

(?) "Does Eric like pizza?"          "Is she bored?"

You can see affirmatives and negatives are direct opposites. We can use the adverb not (or the contraction n't) to show a negative or we can use a negative word like never, nowhere, no-one etc. Words with a negative prefix like un, in, dis or non also have a negative meaning. Examples:

  • unpopular - not popular
  • incomplete not finished
  • dishonest not honest
  • non-smoking  you cannot smoke here
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Here is another example:
"Kyle doesn't know nothing about computers." 
The speaker is using 2 negative words to strongly show that Kyle doesn't know computers well. Here the 2 negatives cancel each other, so this grammar is incorrect. We don't use this sentence in natural English.

It's correct to use a single negative to express this idea. Here are 2 ways that are grammatically correct. Each sentence uses only 1 negative.

"Kyle doesn't know anything about computers." 
"Kyle knows nothing about computers."

double negative

Double negatives are sometimes used by native speakers if the meaning is clear. 
"The puppy in the window was so cute! I couldn't not buy him!" 
This means ~ I had to buy the puppy because he was so cute.

double negative

You may have heard double negatives in popular movies or songs. The following phrase is from a popular song from 1974 and I hear it in movies and on TV sometimes:
"You ain't seen nothing yet." 
This means ~ Something special or great is coming. (If you think what happened was good, get ready for something greater.) 
Check out these 2 short video clips:


If double negatives are used in the same sentence to emphasize a negative meaning the sentence is not acceptable.

"Kyle doesn't know nothing about computers."

At the beginning of this post, we learned that "There is nothing I can't do." is acceptable because we can understand the intended meaning clearly. This sentence also has a positive meaning. "I can do anything."

Here is one more possible example of an acceptable double negative with a positive meaning.

"I don't regret not going to the party."

This means that I'm not sad or upset that I didn't go.

The sentence "Kyle doesn't know nothing about computers." fails because it is trying to express a negative meaning.

Are you still confused? DON'T WORRY!!!! Just stick to the positive vocabulary to express yourself :) If you hear a double negative that sounds odd but you can sense the meaning is positive, now you can understand it!

Here is a list of some songs that use double negatives. The songs have YouTube links (with lyrics) in case you want to listen to them!

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones

Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Don't Come Around Here No More - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

I Don't Trust Nobody - George Thorogood

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Bachman - Turner Overdrive

Useful English resource pages that helped with this blog post:

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double negatives

Step by step English grammar! Verbs ~ Future tense

Simple grammar - Verbs in the future tense

There are 2 common ways to talk about future action.

I'll play tennis tomorrow.
*I’ll is a contraction of ‘I will.’ Contractions are more common in spoken English.
I'm playing tennis tomorrow.

They are saying the same thing, but there is a small nuance that determines if we use I will or I am doing in natural English.

           Click the word to check pronunciation.
nuance noun a very slight difference that is hard to notice.

Let me explain this small difference with 2 more examples. 

① Andrew: Henry is struggling with his current assignment. 
Brad: I have some free time so I'll help him after lunch.

② Kevin: I'm helping Henry move next Saturday. He asked a few of us at work yesterday and I said yes.

Example 1 uses I'll help and example 2 uses I'm helping

There is a small difference between these 2 examples that is hard to see. Can you find it?

Hint: When did the person in the first example decide to help Henry? When did the person in the second example decide to help Henry?

① In the first example Brad just found out about Henry's trouble, then he decided to help Henry as he was speaking

 In the second example, Henry asked Kevin yesterday if he could help him move, and Kevin said ‘yes.’ Kevin has already decided to help, this is a planned activity.

If a future action has just been decided at the time of speaking we use “I will.

It's starting to rain. I'll go upstairs and shut the windows in our bedroom. (This action was decided at the time of speaking.)

I have some free time so I'll help him after lunch. (Brad just found out about Henry's trouble, he decided to help Henry as he was speaking.) 

If a future action has already been decided or planned we use “I am doing.

I'm having a barbeque party next weekend, I hope it doesn't rain. (The decision to have a party was made before the time of speaking.)

I'm helping Henry move next Saturday. (Henry asked Kevin yesterday if he could help him move, and Kevin said ‘yes.’ This is a planned activity.)

I'm helping Henry move next Saturday.
Lisa is strong so she will carry the heavy boxes!

More explanations with examples.

① Will

Will is an easy way to make the future tense of a verb, so it's common among many of the ESL students that I have taught. Just put the word will in front of your verb and now you're talking about the future. As we saw above will is not always the best choice to talk about the future so be careful. Below are some natural ways we use will.

*In conversation the contraction I’ll, he’ll, she’ll etc. is more common. I have used contractions for the examples in this section.

It’s common to use will after the phrase “I think…” 

It’s a nice day today, I think I’ll ride my bike to work.

Wendy just called me from her car, she's stuck in traffic. I think she’ll be late for the morning meeting.

English verbs future tense
I think she'll be stuck for at least an hour!


Math is hard, I’ll help you with your homework after dinner.

If you need a hand to pack your things before the moving van comes we’ll come over and help you tonight.


Mom: Can you clean up the dishes after dinner?
Son: Sure, I’ll do it right after dessert.


Daughter: Dad can come to my school band performance this Friday after work?
Dad: Absolutely! I’ll be there in the front row!

The negative form - won’t - is also common when we promise NOT to do something in the future.

Paul is so rude! We won’t invite him to any more of our parties.

You can trust me, I won’t tell anyone your secret.

English verbs future tense
Your secret is safe with me.

When you ask someone to do something will is the natural fit.

Will you help me with this?

Will you carry a few of these boxes for me?

And when you ask someone about a future situation.

Will you be there on Sunday?

Will it rain tomorrow? 

② I am doing...

As we learned in the first example, I’m doing is used for planned activities, actions we have already decided to take.

I’m watching TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.

I’m watching TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.
I'm going to watch TV for 18 hours straight!

The grammar going to (verb) is also natural in English.

I’m going to watch TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.

Jill’s going to meet her college friend on Saturday.

My wife and I are going to look at houses tonight after work.

We were going to play hockey on Saturday but the arena is closed for repairs.

More great posts about 
English verb tenses!

Now with VIDEO!

Includes a list of the 50 most common irregular verbs in English with 50 example sentences!

Autumn or Fall? Advanced English Study!

In English, the names of the 4 seasons are:

By National Aeronautics and Space Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn.

Now it's Fall, I mean Autumn. Wait, why does our current season have 2 names, Autumn and Fall? That's a good question! Here is what I found out.
🍂The word Autumn, like many English words, has come from other languages. Autumn came from Old French and Latin. According to the article: 

🗣Why Do We Call the Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter? http://mentalfloss.com/article/52813/how-did-seasons-get-their-names
“Autumn,” meanwhile, came to English via the Old French autompne, from the Latin autumnus.
So where did 'Fall' come from? According to some answers I found on Quora:

🗣What's the difference between "fall" and "autumn"? Is there any difference between the two words? https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-difference-between-fall-and-autumn-Is-there-any-difference-between-the-two-words#
Americans call the period from September to November “fall” because in America, that’s when the leaves of deciduous trees turn yellow and then fall off.
So Fall is used mainly in North America, but not really in England. I'm Canadian so I often use Fall but in England, the leaves stay on the trees until December so Autumn is the natural choice. In Japan, my current home, the leaves stay on the trees much later due to the weather.

I thought this was interesting! All languages are interesting to me. Here is more info on English season names from MentalFloss.com


Before Spring was called Spring, it was called Lent in Old English. Starting in the 14th century, that time of year was called “springing time”—a reference to plants “springing” from the ground. In the 15th century this got shortened to “spring-time,” and then further shortened in the 16th century to just “spring.” 
1 way to change an adjective to a verb is by adding the suffix ~en. In this quote, the word "shortened" is the past tense form of the verb shorten. It means to make something shorter, this is the verb form of the adjective short.
More on adjectives becoming verbs here: Link

Plants "springing" from the ground
Original source:
“no copyright infringement is intended”


 “Summer” came from the Old English name for that time of year, sumor. This, in turn, came from the Proto-Germanic sumur-, which itself came from the Proto-Indo-European root sam- (sam- seems to be a variant of the Proto-Indo-European sem-, meaning “together / one").
Proto means - original; from which others develop. 
A prototype is the first design of something from which other forms are copied or developed
Proto-Germanic is the original form of the German language.
Proto-Indo-European is an ancient language on which all Indo-European languages are thought to be based. *The origin of modern Indian and European languages.



“Winter,” meanwhile, derives from the Proto-Germanic wentruz. This, in turn, probably comes from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, meaning “wet,” or it may come from the PIE wind-, meaning “white.”  Either way, the Proto-Germanic wentruz gave rise to the Old English “winter” as the fourth season of the year, and the name for the season has stuck around ever since.

give rise to something
(formal) to cause something to happen or exist
...the Proto-Germanic wentruz gave rise to the Old English “winter”...

~ The use of the Proto-Germanic word wentruz caused the word winter to be used in Old English.

Click below and learn to use the 
passive voice in English!⇩

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Natural English conversation - Use TURN instead of BECOME

🍂This season leaves will become yellow, orange and red. The leaves change color. They will turn yellow, orange and red.

Natural English conversation - Use TURN instead of BECOME

In English conversation, we often use the word turn instead of become. Here are a few common examples:

“Brian will turn 35 next month.” (become 35 years old)

turn means become

“My red sock got washed with my white shirts by accident! My white clothes have all turned pink!!!” (My white clothes have all become pink!)

In the examples above, the subjects changed something, color or age, but they didn't change what they were. Brian is still Brian, he is just one year older. My clothes are still clothes, but they are pink now.

If one thing becomes something else, we can say turn to or turn into. Please look at the following examples:

"If you leave water in the freezer it will turn to ice." (Water will become ice.)

"My niece Grace has turned into a beautiful young lady." (My sister's daughter has changed from a girl to a lady. This is a common way to express that a young person has grown up. They have become an adult.)

Step by step English grammar! Verbs ~ past tense

Step by step English grammar. Verbs ~ past tense

In this awesome post you will learn how to use the simple past tense with confidence. 
*The basics are the most important part of your English grammar and communication study. They are the foundation of your language.

Past tense verbs

Please read the following passage ↓

Mark Twain was an American writer. He lived from 1835 to 1910. He wrote many popular books and traveled across Europe and America. 

Was, lived, wrote and traveled are verbs in the simple past tense.

Past tense verbs often end with _ed. These are called regular verbs.
  • He lived from 1835 to 1910.
  • Mark Twain traveled across Europe and America.
Other examples:
  • We played volleyball after school.
  • Lois and Meg talked for hours.


In English, there are many verbs whose past tense doesn't end with _edThese are called irregular verbs.
  • Mark Twain was an American writer. (Was is the past tense singular form of the verb to be.)
  • He wrote many popular books. (Wrote is the past tense of write.)
Other examples:
  • I bought a new computer yesterday. (Bought is the past tense of buy.)
  • We saw a great movie on Friday, it was about Mark Twain. (Saw is the past tense of see.)

😉Find 50 common irregular English verbs with example sentences at the end of this post. 

Simple past tense rules

① Negative verb forms and questions in the past tense use the auxiliary verb doThe main verb will be in simple present tense.

Negative past tense statements use did not, didn't. 

  • Mark Twain didn't go to university. (Not didn't went)
  • The computer sale is over soon so I didn't want to wait. (Not didn't wanted)

Past tense questions use did you? - did he/she/it etc.

  • Did Mark Twain live in Australia? (Not did he lived?)
  • Did you buy a Mac or a PC? (Not did you bought?)

② When do is the main verb we will use this grammar:
Did do. Didn't do.

A: "What did you do on Saturday?"
B: "I didn't do anything. My day was boring."

The best (and only) way to learn irregular verbs in their past tense is to memorize them. I have included a list below with some natural examples make them easy to remember.

Common irregular verbs

Below is a list of the 50 most common irregular verbs in English from esl lounge. 


English irregular verb examples

1. say said
“Yancy said she would be here by 6:00.”

2. make made
“I hope she gets here soon, I made reservations for 6:30 at the restaurant.”

3. go went
“Maybe she went to the bank after work?”

4. take took
“If she took the local streets she will be late. The roads are always crowded around this time.”

5. come came
“Last week she came here after work and the traffic was fine.”

6. see saw
“I just saw her pull into the driveway.”

7. know knew
“I knew Yancy would be here on time!”

8. get got
“I got an email from Peter this morning, he’s back from his vacation.”

9. give gave
“Yes, he gave me a call from the airport last night when he arrived. I went there to pick him up.”

10. find found
“The airport was so busy! I finally found him after 15 minutes of searching.”

11. think thought
“I thought Peter would be on vacation for 3 weeks.”

12. tell told
“He told me that he would only stay for 12 days.”

13. become became
“He just became a division manager so he can’t be away from the office for too long.”

14. show showed
“On the drive home from the airport, he showed some photos from his trip.” *Show is an irregular verb because the past participle is shown not showed. Other regular verbs whose past tense is _ed use the same form for the past participle.

15. leave left
“Hawaii is so beautiful, You must have been sad when you left.”

16. feel felt
“I felt sad every time I left the beach! Relaxing on the beach is my favorite thing to do.”

17. put put
“Peter had to buy an extra duffel bag for all the souvenirs he bought for his staff. First, he put them in his suitcase, but then his clothes wouldn’t fit!”

18. bring brought
“He is so kind! He brought back a lot of treats for his co-workers.”

English irregular verb examples

19. begin began
“After working for 6 hours without a break, Lisa began to get very hungry.”

20. keep kept
“We kept telling her to relax a little, but Lisa really wants to finish this project.”

21. hold held
“Our boss held a meeting to explain how important this project is to the company.”

22. write wrote
“As the project manager, Lisa wrote a 3-page memo detailing everyone’s tasks.”

23. stand stood
“At the meeting, Lisa stood behind our boss taking notes.”

24. hear heard
“She heard everything he said very clearly.”

25. let let
“She works hard, so this morning I let her have the last donut in the staff break room.”

26. mean meant
“Sorry, I meant to say danish, not donut.”

27. meet met
“After the meeting, the team met at a local restaurant to have dinner together.”

28.set set
“The whole project team was at the restaurant, the staff set the table for 18 people. It was a big table!”

29. run ran
“It was a big dinner so I ran home to burn some calories.”

30. pay paid
“It was a great dinner, and our company paid for everything!”

31. sit sat
“Eric was very quiet during dinner. He sat in the corner and didn't say anything.”

32. speak spoke
“Almost every member of the team spoke about their contribution to the project.”

33. lie lay
“3 nights ago I lay in bed thinking about what I would say at the meeting.”

English irregular verb examples

34. lead led
“It was my first to time in Tokyo so I was happy to have a guide. He led the way during our trip.”

35. read read
“I read 6 books about Tokyo before my trip.”
*Be careful, the spelling for the past tense is the same as the present tense but they are pronounced differently.
Present tense - read ~ REED
Past tense - read ~ RED

36. grow grew
“No one took care of my garden while I was away and weeds grew everywhere.”

37. lose lost
“My favorite team lost an important game last night. I'm sad today.”

38. fall fell
“I was so nervous watching the game I fell off my chair!”

39. send sent
“My friend sent me a message right after the game to tease me. (He likes the other team!)”

40. build built
“I wish my local team had more support from the community. They built a new arena last summer but not enough people are coming to live games.”

41. understand understood
“I tried to explain to my friends that it's important to support the team, but I don't think they understood why.”

English irregular verb examples

42. draw drew
“I drew a picture for my student to help explain the meaning of the new word.”

43. break broke
“I pressed the pencil so hard that I broke it!”

44. spend spent
“I spent the next 5 minutes trying to find a new pencil.”

45. cut cut
“I reached into my desk looking for a pencil and I cut my finger on a utility knife.”

46. rise rose
“I shouted 'ouch!’ and my student rose from her desk to see what was wrong.”

47. drive drove
“I didn't have any bandages so we drove to the pharmacy to buy some.”

48. buy bought
“I bought a big box of band-aids.”

49. wear wore
“It was raining so I wore a rain jacket to the pharmacy.”

50. choose chose
“I chose a family size box, it has 50 bandaids in 4 different shapes.”


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