There are a few rules to keep in mind when making a sentence say “No.”
1. Double negatives are nonstandard. Avoid two negative words in the same clause.
Incorrect: I don’t want no seconds.
(Both don’t and no are negatives.)
Correct: I don’t want any seconds.
Correct: I want no seconds.
This rule does not include negative interjections at the beginning of a sentence or clause, since those are grammatically separate.
Correct: No, I don’t want any seconds.
2. Do not use but in a negative sense with another negative.
Incorrect: He didn’t want but one good manuscript.
Correct: He wanted but one good manuscript.
Correct: He wanted only one good manuscript.
3. Words like barely, hardly, and scarcely have a negative sense and should not be used with another negative. In effect, this creates a double negative.
Incorrect: He couldn’t hardly speak.
Correct: He could hardly speak.
Incorrect: We were not barely able to see the stage.
Correct: We were barely able to see the stage.