From TheFreeDictionary:

give a damn (v): show no concern or interest; always used in the negative

But then in example, it says...

"She doesn't give a damn about her job"

This means, she gives least importance to her job.

But then,

The UrbanDictionary says:

don't give a damn: don't care

So, can we write above example in both ways?

She does not give a damn about her job = She gives a damn about her job

I read this thread here but no concrete answer.

What about the similar expression?

Give a hoot = Don't give a hoot?
Give a shit = Don't give a shit?

  • In my language it says “I don’t give two pence on someone or on something”, having a similar connotation, but used only in negatives. Nov 18, 2014 at 7:00

4 Answers 4


TheFreeDictionary could be clearer; essentially, what it means is something more like the Wiktionary definition:

give a damn (third-person singular simple present gives a damn, present participle giving a damn, simple past gave a damn, past participle given a damn)

To be concerned about, have an interest in, to care (about something).

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

I'd question the assertion that it's always used in the negative; the Wiktionary entry lists a non-negative construction, and so others surely exist, such as your example.

To TRomano's point about the confusion: I believe the phonologically reduced n't in couldn't causes the expression's meaning to be carried in the intonation rather than the lexicogrammar.

That is, because the n't is so difficult to hear sometimes, the following sentences can have the same meaning, depending on the tone:

I couldn't care less
I could care less

Having said that, I'm not sure the change is complete for give a damn, or even that it's necessarily the same thing. I'd want to see more examples of them.

For instance, COCA provides the following results:

(A) -not/n't   GIVE a damn   252

(B)  not/n't   GIVE a damn   547
(C)  not/n't * GIVE a damn    24

Note that in the above results, * means one word and not any number of characters as it common RE.1 Additionally, GIVE means the lemma - all forms of - give (given, giving, gives)

Firstly, what this shows - even if there could be distant, non-negative constructions - is that overwhelmingly it is used in the negative, but not always.

Excerpt of results from (A)

Consider the excerpt from (A) (above, apologies for the small text here's a direct link), in particular the ones without negation; lines 3 and 15. These examples don't have any distant or proximal negation, and their meanings are clear.

For (3), it is we are smart enough to care. For (15), it is How am I going to care about selling someone a T-1 line?

Of course, language changes, and spoken language so much more rapidly than written language. If give a damn adopts the same meaning whether it is negated or not, it is still in the process of doing so.

Also note that having a negative connotation is not the same as being negated; things can have a negative connotation ("have bad axiological relations") and not be negated. And, looking at the corpus data for hoot and shit (links below), the same is true for them; they retain both a negated and non-negated meaning.

She does not give a damn about her job = She gives a damn about her job

tl;dr: No, at the very least, the above clauses are not equivalent yet, and I'm not sure they're in the process of becoming equivalent. This applies to hoot and shit as well.

  1. Here are links for each of the searches:

  • I’d rather question Wiki’s assertion. All Wiki’s examples bear a negative connotation. Can we value, appreciate, care about something by giving a damn on it? Nov 17, 2014 at 13:29
  • @LucianSava Updated; also, a negative connotation is not the same as being negated. The third example in wiki, "If she actually gave a damn what the law said, she wouldn't have stolen the car in the first place, now would she?" can only work because it has a different meaning when negated - it doesn't have the same meaning if it meant "if she actually didn't care, she wouldn't have stolen the car in the first place, now would she?" I think give a damn, in that situation, must mean "cared", rather than "didn't care".
    – jimsug
    Nov 17, 2014 at 13:56
  • 1
    That "always used in the negative" is obviously rubbish - why should I give a damn about an assertion that apparently prevents me from writing this sentence? Nov 17, 2014 at 15:38
  • 1
    @LucianSava- Consider this exchange: "We should ask her for money. She won't give us any she doesn't give a damn about us. Right, what we have to do is find something she does give a damn about"
    – Jim
    Nov 17, 2014 at 18:14
  • 1
    I could absolutely say "I give a damn about economic inequality" to mean that I care, but even without any context the implication of the phrase is that I am contrasting myself against another group of people who I am suggesting do not give a damn. I don't think it's usable in a sense that does not express negativity towards someone.
    – Mikkel
    Jul 18, 2016 at 20:44

These exclamations have gotten confused, just like "could care less|couldn't care less".

Some people, when they say, "I could care less" mean that they couldn't care less. They don't care at all about something.

Some people, when they say, "I could|couldn't give a damn", mean that they don't give a damn. They don't care at all about something.

For many speakers, with such exclamations the meaning is conveyed in the tone, and they don't bother about the literal meaning of the words.

  • See my updated answer above; I think the could(n't) care less semantic shift is due to the phonological reduction of n't, which leads to the confusion. However, I don't think it's possible (or at least, plausible) that give a damn has undergone the same shift for the same reason, as the modal verb is not part of the idiom, in its case. It's possible that the idiom is in the process of pejoration and losing its non-negated meaning, but corpus data shows that that's far from complete, if it's started at all.
    – jimsug
    Nov 17, 2014 at 13:58

There is a novel with the title: "The girl who gave a damn". I've been trying to figure out whether the title means she was against traditional practices or was simply one who acted according to her instinct. Mrs Scholastica Lawrie, its author, seems to suggest the latter - instinctive behaviour which was not necessarily aimed at challenging tradition. In spite of the few examples which suggest positive usage of the idiomatic expression, I tend to see and experience usages which connote negative usage. Really, I don't give a damn about its few positives. I just see a negative expression. Apart from it being common in informal usage, it doesn't often give an impression of a polite usage.


If you couldn't care less you could not care any less than you do right now. If you could care less you could care less than you do right now. The extreme is couldn't which is on the negative side and isn't that the whole point. I'm not sure I communicated this intelliagably or not but I hope it's clear.

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