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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Stefania here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Greek questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is “Do two negatives make a positive in Greek?”
The quick answer is “sometimes.” Basically, it depends on the context.
In English, two negatives can make a positive. For example,
"I don't want you not eating enough." = "I want you to eat enough."
But two negatives can also intensify a negation. For example,
"I'm not angry no more." = "I'm not angry anymore."
Although it would be considered bad grammar in standard English, in some English dialects, the use of double negations in sentences like "I ain't going nowhere" is very common.
Let's get into more detail and see what happens with Greek.
Greek is a negative concord language, meaning that the grammar allows for two or more negatives to occur in a sentence without necessarily turning the statement into a positive one. In general, whether a double negative makes a positive statement or not, relies on the context and choice of words.
Let's see again our first example. "I don't want you not eating enough." In Greek it would be Δεν θέλω να μην τρως αρκετά (Den thélo na min tros arketá). Literally, it means "I don't want (you) to not eat enough.”
In a structure like this, with two negative verb forms, one using the negation particle δεν in the indicative mood and the other the negation particle μην in the subjunctive mood, the two negatives create a positive; in this case to mean "I want you to eat enough. - Θέλω να τρως αρκετά. (Thélo na tros arketá.)"
Here are some similar sample sentences.
Δεν υπάρχει άνθρωπος που να μην τον ξέρει. (Den ipárhi kanénas pu na min ton xéri.)
"There isn't anyone that doesn't know him."
Δεν γίνεται να μην γκρινιάζω! (Den yínete na min griniázo!)
"It's impossible for me not to complain!"
Now, let's see some examples of double negatives in Greek intensifying a negative statement.
Δεν λέω ψέματα ποτέ. (Den léo psémata poté.) Literally, "I don't tell lies never." = "I never lie."
Τα κλειδιά δεν είναι πουθενά. (Ta klidiá den íne puthená.) Literally, "The keys are not nowhere." = "The keys are nowhere."
Δεν το γνωρίζω καθόλου. (Den to gnorízo kathólu.) Literally, "I don't know that not at all." = "I don't know that at all."
In these examples, it's the use of negative adverbs, such as ποτέ (poté, "never"), πουθενά (puthená, "nowhere"), and καθόλου/διόλου (kathólu/diólu, "not at all"), that forces the verb to be in the negative form. A positive verb just doesn't work with these adverbs, so double negatives are compulsory with these negative adverbs.
Here are some similar sample sentences.
Δεν με νοιάζει καθόλου! (Den me niázi kathólu!)
"I don't care at all!"
Πουθενά δεν υπάρχει αυτό το βιβλίο. (Puthená den ipárhi aftó to vivlío.)
"That book isn't available anywhere."
Next, I'll show you some examples that use negative pronouns in double negatives.
The first pronoun is the indeclinable τίποτα (típota, "nothing"). For example...
Δεν θα πω τίποτα. (Den tha po típota.) Literally, "I won't say nothing." = "I won't say anything."
Instead of a double negative, we can replace the negative τίποτα (típota) with the positive κάτι (káti, "something") and say...
Δεν θα πω κάτι. (Den tha po káti.) Literally, "I won't say something." = "I won't say anything."
However, the double negative in the first example is more common.
The next pronouns are the declinable κανένας/κανείς (kanénas/kanís), καμία/καμιά (kamía/kamiá), and κανένα (kanéna) for the masculine, feminine, and neuter gender respectively. These have two meanings.
The first is "no one, nobody, no" when there is a negation resulting in a double negative. For example,
Κανένας δεν είναι εδώ. (Kanénas den íne edó.) Literally, "Nobody is not here." = "Nobody is here."
The second meaning is "some, someone, somebody, anyone, anybody" when there's no negation, so no double negatives here. For example,
Είναι κανείς εκεί; (Íne kanís ekí? "Is anybody there?")
Here are some sample sentences.
Δεν με καταλαβαίνει κανείς. (Den me katalavéni kanís.)
"Nobody understands me."
Κανείς και τίποτα δεν θα μας χωρίσει! (Kanís ke típota den tha mas horísi!)
"No one and nothing will tear us apart!"
An interesting structure is that of doubling these negative adverbs and pronouns that we saw, resulting in triple negatives to make a negative statement even more negative. All you need to do is add the pledge particle μα (ma) between the two duplicates, but with the declinable pronouns, do so only when they are in the accusative case. Some examples are...
Δεν μαλώνουμε ποτέ, μα ποτέ. (Den malónume poté, ma poté.) Literally, “We don't fight never, but never.” = “We never ever fight.”
Δεν κάνει τίποτα, μα τίποτα όλη μέρα. (Den káni típota, ma típota óli méra.) Literally, “(S)he doesn't do nothing, but nothing all day long.” = “(S)he does absolutely nothing all day long.”
Δεν έχω κανέναν, μα κανέναν χρόνο! (accusative) (Den ého kanénan, ma kanénan hróno!) Literally, “I don't have no, but no time.” = “I have absolutely no time at all.”


How was the lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
Γεια χαρά! (Ya hará!)