I am an english learner.
I general ( or may be I am wrong ) we use:
any in both negative and positive sentences. for example: I don't need any education
no in positive phrases ( may be I am wrong ). for example: I need no education

But in We don't need no education sentence, there is Don't and No in phrase. which I can't understand the meaning of it. what does it mean?

  1. We do not need any education?
  2. We DO need education and ( don't want any illiterate !! )

Thanks. And sorry if my english is still too bad. I hope you understand what I asked :)

  • 3
    Hypercorrectors would say negative statement+negative statement=positive statement. That's wrong, double negative is used to emphasize the negativeness of the statement. – user178049 Nov 15 '16 at 12:47
  • The Pink Floyd song is donkey years old, the discussion about its grammaticality and its structure idem. A simple Google search would have confirmed your instincts. – Mari-Lou A Nov 15 '16 at 13:01
  • @user178049 I think that's disputable, especially depending on language. In Spanish, yes adding additional negative words emphasizes negativity ("No limpio nada"). In English, not necessarily. – eques Nov 15 '16 at 18:50

You are right that it is not gramatically correct, but certainly in British English it is quite commonly used. It is a double negative, which if we would take literally would mean a positive. But in fact we don't take it literally, and the meaning which it still conveys is

We don't need any education

I would argue that the reason it is used in the Pink Floyd song, is for irony. This is because using no instead of any in a sentence like this, is considered to be something someone uneducated would do. You certainly wouldn't hear the Queen saying it like this!

Also, maybe the single-syllabled "no" just works better for the rhythm than "any".

Not obeying the rules of grammar, in some circles, makes one appear outrageously cool and hip to one's peers. In civilised England however, we recognise that speaking and writing grammatically is more important than anything else in the world.

| improve this answer | |
  • WikiPedia says it's a grammatical construction en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_negative – user178049 Nov 15 '16 at 13:01
  • I agree that double negatives can be grammatical when they are used to convey a positive. But when the intended meaning is a negative, they are ungrammatical. – Tom B Nov 15 '16 at 13:03
  • This construction is grammatical in many many many varieties of Engtlish, but not in the particular varieties that have prestige. These latter require a different negative polarity item any instead of no. The claim that such constructions convey a positive is bogus: with suitable emphasis, they can convey a positive, but in most cases they are both intended and understood (even by pedants) to mean a negative, so that is what they mean. I doubt if there was any particular ironic intention: the song is written grammatically in the dialect of many ordinary English speakers. – Colin Fine Nov 15 '16 at 18:16
  • Yes - emphasis would be required if one really wanted to convey a double negative as a positive. However I'm not sure you can say it is grammatical in its negative form just because it is in common usage. Perhaps you can. In which case we have to take every bastardisation of the English language as grammatical if enough people are doing it? – Tom B Nov 15 '16 at 18:49
  • @TomB Yes, because we aren't speaking anything close to Old English, because enough people changed the grammar that once was grammatical is now no longer, and vice versa. Languages don't stop changing just because you don't like it. Ask any linguist. – eijen Feb 16 '17 at 18:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.