You are telling to a kid that he can't not eat something. Is the structure making sense?

A: you can't not eat things.

  • It is correct, but be careful! "can't not" means "must" or "have to". It does not mean "can".
    – kasfme
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 2:35
  • 1
    You can not not eat things. The two not's cancel. You can eat things. The sentence means the kid has to eat something even if he or she doesn't like it. The kid can say "I'm not eating this!" And the mother replies, "You can't not eat things. You must eat something or die." Is it grammatically correct? Yes. Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 2:54
  • It's grammatically correct, but it's a little unclear if it means what you want it to mean. As other have pointed out, this sentence means "You must eat things." If you mean that the kid must eat, instead of refusing to eat, more idiomatic ways to phrase it might be You can't eat nothing or You have to eat something.
    – stangdon
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 11:35
  • Also "You are telling to a kid…" and "Is the structure making sense?" raise other questions… Either "… telling a kid…" or "…*saying to* a kid…" Never "…telling to…" "Does the structure make sense?" yes and "Is the structure making sense?" works in the different context of a developing conversation. At first, someone did not understand; in future, he might understand; only now, as the conversation progresses, can we ask "Is the structure making sense?" This is equivalent to "Is the structure starting to make sense?" where the sense is not absolute; it is beginning to emerge. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


"You can't not eat things" is acceptable. However, it is a bit tricky!

What does it mean?

You might think that the nots of "You can not not eat things" cancel. This is false. "You can't not eat things" does not mean "You can eat things".

"You can't not eat things" means "You must eat things".

english.stackexchange talks about this here, here and here.

When do you use it?

I would not write "can't not". Instead, I would write "must" or a similar word to "must".

I say "can't not" when speaking.

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