English has a lot of creative ways to say positive things using negative words. For example:
These type of expressions are fine when you’re talking because your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language show what you really mean. For example, saying something’s ‘not bad’ could mean anything from ‘mostly disappointing’ to ‘pretty great’ depending on whether you say it with a scowl or a smile.
But the written word is very different to the spoken word. Here are three good reasons to stay positive when you’re writing.
Double negatives that express a positive idea (for example, ‘It’s not unusual…’) are common in English. They’re perfectly correct, grammatically, but they can be tricky to read and understand — particularly for people reading quickly or people with English as a second language.
Turn double negatives into positives to make your meaning clearer.
She couldn’t not jump for joy.
She had to jump for joy.
They shouldn’t just do nothing.
They should do something.
I’m not unaware of that fact.
I’m aware of that fact.
He doesn’t regret not eating the last piece of cake.
He’s glad he didn’t eat the last piece of cake.
In writing, tone relies heavily on word choice. Negative words can create a negative tone, even when you’re trying to be helpful.
We can’t complete your application because you failed to send us your photo.
To phrase your writing more positively, focus on what’s needed or what’s possible, rather than the opposite.
Please send us your photo so we can complete your application.
Did you notice that all of the positive rewrites above were shorter than their negative equivalents? Staying positive often means cutting your word count. Concise is always good for busy readers.
It’s not uncommon for us to go out at the weekend.
We often go out at the weekend.
The gig we went to last weekend wasn’t bad.
The gig we went to last weekend was good.
The tickets weren’t inexpensive, but we didn’t want to deny ourselves.
The tickets were expensive, but we wanted to treat ourselves.
The band didn’t disappoint — they didn’t play a single bad note.
The band was great — they played perfectly.
I wouldn’t say no to seeing them again.
I’d be happy to see them again.
Look for the negative expressions in your own writing. When you see one, try making it positive. Three ways to eliminate negative words are to delete, replace, and rewrite.
don’t address these issues, we’ll never be able to fulfil our potential.
If we address these issues, we’ll be able to fulfil our potential.
You can take not more than 5 subjects in a semester.
You can take up to 5 subjects in a semester.
We don’t tolerate poor behaviour from our staff.
We expect our staff to behave appropriately.
Keep being positive until it becomes a habit!