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Thread: Double Negatives

  1. #1
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    Double Negatives

    Obviously Russian doesn't follow the same double negative principle as English, but is there a way to translate "nobody wasn't talking"? Can I just add an extra не? so никто не не говорил? My gut tells me no. Would it require a more complicated structure like: не было никого, кто не говорил?

    What about the understated double negative, for example "he didn't see nothing" to mean he saw something, but not everything. Не было ничего, котороe (-ого?) он не видел, assuming that structure is correct, would mean he saw everything, right?

  2. #2
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    First of all there is special particle "ни-" in russian. If it's used as a distinct word - it means "neither". But if it's joined as prefix to word it becomes "no-".
    -Где это было? - Нигде. (Where did it happen? -No-where)
    -Кто это сделал? -Никто. (-Who did it? -Nobody (literally "no-who")
    Moreover, there is "незачем" - no-why, something like "without reason".
    This can explain next part - these words was born as answers to questions!
    So, there is strange thing about ни-words - inside negatives they mean opposite things:
    - Не пришёл никто - Anybody didn't come (literally, or "Nobody came")
    - Я не был нигде - I didn't go anywhere.
    Sometimes this form of speech is called "double negation", but it's strange to use such words in positive clauses. We don't say "Никто пришёл на работу" - it's wrong. English way to negate like in "Nobody wants to..." blows mind of russian learners of english first time they see it. "Ни-words" are always paired with negation or rejection.
    So, imho, "ни-" does not form real double negatives (however some people thinks of it in this way) - it's just switchable nobody/anybody, depending on status of negation, special case of answer-words. I am not sure how teaching courses explain it.

    Normally real "не" particle does only one thing: negates. And it negates only word after it, not anything else.
    Я говорю плохие новости. - I am telling bad news.
    Не я говорю плохие новости. - It's not me who is telling bad news.
    Я не говорю плохие новости. - I am not telling bad news.
    Я говорю не плохие новости. - I am telling not bad news.
    Я говорю плохие не новости. - I am telling bad things which are not news.
    You cannot put two "не" one after another - it just has no sense, so you cannot make double negation with it:
    "Не я не говорю не плохие не новости" literally means "It's not me who is not telling not bad things which are not news". Gross! Nobody talks like this of course.

    Maybe I miss something out.
    fortheether likes this.

  3. #3
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    P.S.

    So, let's parse complex case: "Я никогда ничего не буду недооценивать".
    Well, we have 4 no-particles here. "не буду" (will not) tells us we have negation, so we convert ни-words to opposites: никогда(never)->always, ничего(nothing)->anything. недооценивать is "underestimate", "не-" is direct negation of "estimate" and nothing need to do with it.
    So we get: "I will not underestimate anything at any times (always)". Which is shortly "I will never underestimate anything" in english I believe.

  4. #4
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    That I understand.

    What I mean is, in English we can say "nobody was talking" (0 people were talking), or "nobody wasn't talking" (= everybody was talking). The second version is called a double negative, and two negatives make a positive, following the double negative principle in classical logic.

    And sometimes we use them for various effects.

    "Did the party go well?"
    "Great, nobody wasn't talking".

    This is a more emphatic way of saying everybody was talking.

    My question is, is it possible in Russian to make a positive sentence, using negative words.

  5. #5
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    Regular "не" always works as "minus with minus makes plus".
    For example: "Не задавай ненужных вопросов" - "Do not ask unrelated questions" means "Ask related questions" after all.
    But pay attention to "ни-words" (they are used in almost all phrases with negation) - they works as I described above - always are paired with negatives to form negatives.
    Because "nobody" - "никто" is "ни-word" we need to rephrase to make positive meaning with two real "не": "не было тех, кто не разговаривал" (there weren't (people) who didn't talk)
    fortheether likes this.

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