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It is not not made by hand

There are two "not"s here. Is this sentence right? If yes, what kind of sentence is it?

More example in corpus, and you type "not not" in it. You can find there are lots of examples here.

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3 Answers 3

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This is a great question, and really interesting! To expand a bit on what Maulik V says (which I agree with), I think this could have a few different meanings, depending on context/emphasis:

  1. something in between the negative and positive;
  2. something more complicated than either the negative or positive; or
  3. a disagreement with something which has been said.

What all three of these cases have in common is that they all follow on from (or respond to) an idea or statement that the thing is (or is not) made by hand. To try and make this clear, I'll give some examples.

1, 2: 'Made by hand' might imply that something is 100% made by hand, with no help from machines (a very narrow category). Or, it could mean anything which is made with some use of hands - e.g. someone uses their hands to make some of it, or to operate a machine to make it (a broader category).

When two people talk about this, they may use double negation to show that there is ambiguity, a difference in definitions, or that it is not as simple as 'yes'/'no'. In both of these cases, the second not would be verbally stressed.

Imagine Bob is admiring Alice's shirt (which is fabulous)...

Bob: I like your shirt, Alice - it's fabulous!
Alice: Thanks! I made it myself.
Bob: Oh wow! A hand-made shirt...
Alice: Thanks, although I used a sewing machine, so it's not really made by hand...
Bob: Well, it's not *not* made by hand, either...!

Bob would likely stress the second 'not' very clearly, and the interpretation would be either:

  1. "I agree that it's [not] [100% made by hand]. But it's [not] [0% made by hand], either" (in between the negative and positive); or
  2. "I agree that it's [not] [100% made by hand]. But just because it's [not] [100% made by hand], that doesn't mean that it's [0% made by hand]" (more complicated than yes/no).

It could easily be a mixture of the two. Another example of where 1 or 2 might apply:

A: Don't put cream in my coffee - I'm allergic to milk!
B: But it's not milk; it's cream!
A: Yes, but it's not not milk; I can't have it!

3: The matter could also be a simple disagreement with what someone said, putting 'not' in front of a quote of their statement ("not made by hand"):

A: Check out my badge! I made it by hand.
B: That's not made by hand!
A: It's not "not made by hand"! Don't be so rude; I made it myself.
B: Oh, sorry - I just meant it looks professional. Do you sell them?

Here, there is no significant stress on the second not - maybe a light stress on 'not' and/or 'not made by hand'.

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It's two negations meaning the positive I think.

We asked them not not to publish it, but to delay it.

We should see this probably like - *We asked them [not] [not to publish] it, but to delay it.

In your example -

It's [not] [not made by hand] - it's made by hand.

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  • So this sentence is correct? What about :"She is not beautiful." Does it parse like this :"She is [not beautiful]"?
    – user48070
    Feb 11, 2014 at 7:49
  • Yes, that sentence seems okay to me and the comment sentence seems correct as well...provided you want to emphasize the negation.
    – Maulik V
    Feb 11, 2014 at 7:52
  • Do you mean that the first "not" modifies "is",and the second "not" modifies "made by hand"?
    – user48070
    Feb 11, 2014 at 8:09
  • In that case, yes.
    – Maulik V
    Feb 11, 2014 at 9:08
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there are many different meanings to this but im gonna explain one of them, NOT NOT, its hard to explain what i mean but imagine this, you are tasked to go on a direction, whether it is up, down, left or right, a sign says up, so you go up, another sign says Not Down, So you do not go down, And adother says 𝘕𝘰𝘵 Not Down, which direction do you go to? Down! Because it says it is Simply, 𝘕𝘰𝘵 not down. Same thing with colors, If you show the color red, a simple way to say it is simply saying that its red, but another way of saying it, is it is sinply 𝘕𝘰𝘵 Not red!

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    Hello! Welcome to ELL stack exchange! We appreciate your answer, but please try to be more formal and use proper grammar next time. Thank you!
    – Buzzyy
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:08

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