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Nobody is doing nothing vs. Nobody is doing anything

English translation: Nobody is doing anything. The other is wrong.

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17:07 Nov 29, 2013
English to English translations [PRO]
Linguistics / grammar
English term or phrase: Nobody is doing nothing vs. Nobody is doing anything
Please advise which of these forms is *more* correct.

Thank you in advance!
Alexander Onishko
Local time: 20:35
English translation:Nobody is doing anything. The other is wrong.
Explanation:
If nobody is doing nothing, everyone must be doing something. And that is the opposite of the meaning you want.
Selected response from:

Jack Doughty
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:35
Grading comment
many thanks to all!!!
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +12nobody is doing anythingGallagy
4 +9Nobody is doing anything. The other is wrong.
Jack Doughty
5 +8It depends entirely on context.
Richard Sanders
5 +2Nobody is doing anything
Parvathi
4 +3Prescriptive grammarians would pick the second option as the correct one
Dariusz Saczuk
5 -1both phrases mean the opposite
acetran
4no one is doing anything
Jenni Lukac


Discussion entries: 26





  

Answers


2 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +9
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
Nobody is doing anything. The other is wrong.


Explanation:
If nobody is doing nothing, everyone must be doing something. And that is the opposite of the meaning you want.

Jack Doughty
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 197
Grading comment
many thanks to all!!!

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Monica Colangelo: Spot on!
1 min
  -> Thank you.

neutral  David Moore: But he hasn't told you what he wants to say...
2 mins

agree  Tony M: This would be the commonest form for what we have to assume is the intended meaning. Jack has made that assumption of what would be the 'usual' intended meaning.
13 mins
  -> Thank you, Tony.

agree  Tina Vonhof: Unless it's a quotation of someone talking that way.
1 hr
  -> Thank you.

agree  Firas Allouzi
2 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  writeaway: "more correct"? no. this is correct and the other is wrong, as you say
7 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  Anna Herbst: This is the correct form unless you actually mean that everone is doing something.
11 hrs
  -> Thank you

agree  Daniel Weston
12 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  airmailrpl: -
17 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  klp
1 day6 hrs
  -> Тhank you.
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3 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +2
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
Nobody is doing anything


Explanation:
The first phrase is wrong. It is two negative sentences and combining them makes it a positive which means that the person IS doing something.


The second phrase is right

Parvathi
India
Local time: 23:05
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in HindiHindi, Native in TeluguTelugu

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Tony M: This would be the commonest form for what we have to assume is the intended meaning.
12 mins

agree  airmailrpl: -
17 hrs
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2 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +3
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
Prescriptive grammarians would pick the second option as the correct one


Explanation:
P

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 3 mins (2013-11-29 17:10:46 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Yet, a "double negative" is not always incorrect.

Dariusz Saczuk
United States
Local time: 13:35
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: Native in PolishPolish
PRO pts in category: 4

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Monica Colangelo
0 min
  -> Thank you, Monica.

agree  Victoria Britten
53 mins
  -> Thank you, Victoria. :-)

agree  airmailrpl: -
17 hrs
  -> Thank you, airmailpl.
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11 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +8
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
It depends entirely on context.


Explanation:
In the Queen's English, nobody is doing nothing is incorrect, by custom, and by assumptions about the audience. The argument that the double negative makes a positive is logical, but wrong. Italian, Spanish and French regularly use double negatives for emphasis. For example, if you have a group of accused criminals being interrogated, they might emphasize that "nobody did nothing" - and that would be quite correct in that context; obviously it also depends on the level of literacy of the speaker and the assumed audience.

Richard Sanders
United States
Local time: 13:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Dariusz Saczuk: This is the point I raised in the discussion box.
9 mins

agree  Terry Richards: Yes, this could be a piece of colloquial dialogue.
10 mins

agree  Mikhail Kropotov
22 mins

agree  Victoria Britten
43 mins

agree  Charles Davis: This comes nearest to expressing my view of it.
1 hr

agree  Stephanie Ezrol: nicely stated
4 hrs

neutral  writeaway: asker asked which is "more correct". that doesn't depend on the context.
6 hrs

neutral  Anna Herbst: Can not say where usage is going in the US, but in AUS and the UK the double negation becomes a positive, so if nobody did nothing, everyone did something.
11 hrs

agree  Phoenix III
2 days9 hrs

agree  Jim Tucker: Yes. "Nobody is doing nothing" is dialectical, but widespread. Heck, even Shakespeare was fond of the double negative.
2 days9 hrs
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1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
no one is doing anything


Explanation:
As "nobody" is very informal, I'd go with "no one."
Example from the New York Times:www.nytimes.com/.../budget-agreement-finesses-tou...
16/04/1989 - ... Street and foreign governments as well as ordinary American voters to say, as they have grown used to saying, that no one is doing anything.

Jenni Lukac
Local time: 19:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 44
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1 min   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +12
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
nobody is doing anything


Explanation:
other is double negative

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2 hrs (2013-11-29 19:29:11 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

I assumed, since the heading is Linguistics, that you wanted the "correct" grammatical form, not some colloquial double negative.

Of course Richard has a point about context but his example of criminals in a court does not lead one to expect good grammar!

As for double negatives in other languages, well, this is about English, and while they can be used as intensifiers and sometimes in a jocular way by educated natives, in general, they are used by the less literate and less educated members of society.

Yes, "nobody is doing nothing" could be read as

"everyone is doing something" but most of us assumed otherwise.

As Tony has said, what's the point of adding ambiguity when a single negative will suffice?

Gallagy
Ireland
Local time: 18:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 39

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Monica Colangelo
1 min
  -> thanks Monika!

agree  Fabrizia Morra
6 mins
  -> Thanks Fabrizia!

agree  Nancy Greenleese
7 mins
  -> Thanks Nancy!

agree  Tony M: This would be the commonest form for what we have to assume is the intended meaning.
14 mins
  -> Thanks Tony! Yes, we can only assume...

agree  Mikhail Kropotov
31 mins
  -> Thanks Mikhail!

agree  1045
44 mins
  -> Thanks 1045!

agree  Firas Allouzi
2 hrs
  -> Thanks Firas!

agree  Piyush Ojha: I doubt any native speaker would regard the two negatives here as cancelling each other. Nevertheless, in standard English, 'no one is doing anything' is correct.
7 hrs
  -> many thanks Piyush:-) I'm sure Asker was not expecting this long discussion!

agree  Daniel Weston
12 hrs
  -> Many thanks Daniel:-)

agree  airmailrpl: -
17 hrs
  -> Many thanks airmailpl:-)

agree  klp
1 day6 hrs
  -> Many thanks klp:-)

agree  Phong Le
2 days11 hrs
  -> Many thanks Phong:-)
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3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): -1
nobody is doing nothing vs. nobody is doing anything
both phrases mean the opposite


Explanation:
The first means people are doing something. The second means that they are doing nothing. I would not say that the first statement is incorrect. Both statements are correct. It depends on what you want to say. For eg. a mobile company, Micromax, has the punchline, "NOTHING LIKE ANYTHING."

acetran
Native speaker of: Native in HindiHindi, Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 4

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
disagree  writeaway: they don't mean the opposite.
4 hrs
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