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I read other posts about the double negative, but I still would like to find out whether my sentence is OK in writing:

Breakfast was not served for no good reason.

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    Assuming what you actually mean is There was a good reason for serving breakfast (the two negatives "cancel each other out"), your text is syntactically perfectly valid. But it's potentially confusing on the semantic front (maybe you mean breakfast wasn't served, but there was no good reason for this), so I would avoid it. – FumbleFingers Oct 21 at 13:25
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    I didn't choose the handle "FumbleFingers" for no good reason. It reflects the fact that I'm at best a "two-fingered typist". – FumbleFingers Oct 21 at 13:30
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    Thank you! I see. I meant - breakfast wasn't served, but there was no good reason for this. OK, I will use the expanded version. Thank you! – Ronja Oct 21 at 14:20
  • @ Fumble Fingers.I think this sentence means Breakfast was served for good reason. – Englishmonger Oct 21 at 14:32
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    @Englishmonger: I think it's fair to say that "this sentence" itself is inherently ambiguous. Your interpretation (same as my first one above) is perfectly credible - but so is my second interpretation, and apparently that's the meaning OP intends here. So effectively you're endorsing my suggestion (use alternative non-ambiguous phrasing), otherwise people might misunderstand you. – FumbleFingers Oct 21 at 14:40
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Yes, the sentence is OK, but it might not mean what you expect. In standard, formal English, this sentence:

Breakfast was not served for no good reason.

is a denial of this sentence:

Breakfast was served for no good reason.

The first sentence implies that breakfast was served for a good reason—or, possibly, that breakfast was not served at all.

Standard English—the kind of English that people learn in school—is the main kind of English that we use in formal writing: reports, newspaper articles, essays, books, research papers, legal contracts, and most answers on StackExchange. This is writing that is meant to stand in some dependable, long-lasting way as a record, which can be clearly understood by anyone familiar with standard English. In standard English, a double negative means a denial of the first negative—and therefore implicitly affirms the original idea. Also in standard English, the phrase "for no good reason" is understood to modify only "served", not "Breakfast was not served".

In some informal spoken dialects of English, the double negative has a different meaning: it emphasizes a negation by repeating it. In those dialects, your example sentence would likely express exasperation that breakfast was not served, claiming that there was no good reason for failing to serve breakfast. If you are learning English for formal, international written communication, I recommend completely ignoring the various informal, regional dialects.

Standard alternatives to the double negative

In standard English, you can express the same exasperation by altering the sentence so that "for no good reason" applies to "Breakfast was not served" rather than just "served". The needed alteration can be very small, even just the addition of a comma or dash in the right place:

Breakfast was not served, for no good reason.

Breakfast was not servedfor no good reason.

For no good reason, breakfast was not served.

There was no good reason for not serving breakfast.

Breakfast was not served, and there was no good reason for it.

Breakfast was not served, and there was no good reason for not serving it.

To prevent confusion, you can also reword the sentence so that it it only has one "not" or "no". This kind of rewording is what most copyeditors and professional writers would usually recommend:

For no good reason, the hotel failed to serve breakfast.

Breakfast went unserved for no good reason.

Another way to deny the negative in standard English

If you really want to deny that breakfast was served for no good reason, another way that you can write it is shown below. This way is less prone to confusion. (I've added some context.)

Tim asked, "Was breakfast served for no good reason?"

Mary said, "No. There was a good reason for serving breakfast: to infuriate the enthusiasts of intermittent fasting."

Tim said, "You consider that a good reason?"

The trick is to express the denial ("No.") first and separately, and then express the affirmation explicitly ("There was a good reason…").

Even simpler and clearer, of course, is just to omit both negations:

Breakfast was served for a good reason.

This is usually best, unless you have a good reason for emphasizing denial, as in the above dialogue.

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    Thank you, Ben, for such a detailed explanation! I am translating an informal-style text and was told to keep the original style/structure/linguistic choice as much as possible. Therefore, I was so willing to keep the double negative. Your examples with a dash, a comma etc. are really great! Thank you! – Ronja Oct 21 at 19:04
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no, it is not ok.

There's only one case where I'm ok with it: When you're using dialog that indicates it's a part of a character's speech. If you're using it, it's intentional and it's to give more insight into the background of a character, either real or fictional.

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Breakfast was not served for no good reason.

It may mean break fast was served for a good reason.

It may mean breakfast was not served for any good reason

So it is better to avoid double negatives and say:

Breakfast was served for a good reason.

Your sentence is not at all acceptable in writing but it is understandable and heard in native English speaking countries. It may be ambiguous for some people.

Though double negatives are not acceptable in standard English,they are being used in certain dialects in native English speaking countries.However,it is not acceptable in writing.

Do you know anybody?

No.I do not know nobody?

I do not know nobody mathematically means I know somebody but linguistically it means I do not know anybody at least in the community where it is spoken.Language is different from mathematics.

Here is a link which shows the usage.

https://www.quora.com/Which-one-is-true-I-dont-need-anybody-or-I-dont-need-nobody

  • Absent some special context or emphasis, pretty well all English speakers, of whatever variety, will understand "I don't know nobody" to mean "I don't know anybody", even if they pretend not to understand it. Since meaning resides only in the speaker and hearer (writer and reader) and nowhere else, it is false and perverse to claim that it "means" something other than that. – Colin Fine Oct 21 at 15:58
  • @ColinFine.I think you endorse my opinion and but you think I am not assertive enough to claim my point? – Englishmonger Oct 21 at 16:03
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    I respectfully disagree with @ColinFine here. In formal settings, meaning is determined by cultural conventions that exist independently of any particular speaker or hearer. Most questions about English, including this one, are about how to conform to those formal conventions, not about whether a given locution is understandable to most hearers. Vast amounts of nonstandard English, including double negatives, are understandable but not appropriate in formal writing. – Ben Kovitz Oct 21 at 16:08
  • @BenKovitz: I agree that it is not appropriate in formal writing. The claim that it "means" something that it plainly doesn't mean, though, is a bogus rationalisation for a cultural rule. – Colin Fine Oct 21 at 16:16
  • @ColinFine Not surprisingly, it sounds like we actually do agree. I'll post another answer from this perspective. Hopefully one of these answers will sort the topic out out in enough detail to be useful to the OP without causing confusion due to too much information. – Ben Kovitz Oct 21 at 16:25

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