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So you know how in English people might humorously answer a question like

Do you want to go?

in a kind of faux denial, with

I don't not want to go.

Is it possible to express the same sentiment in German with

Ich will nicht nicht gehen

or is that just too weird-sounding?

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    You might want to have a read in "Die Abenteuer des braven Soldaten Schwejk" by Jaroslav Hašek in German translation. Schwejk, the protagonist, is famous for his notorious use of double negations used throughout the book in numerous places.
    – tofro
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 12:48

4 Answers 4

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Well, you can say this in Standard German, if you make a short pause between the two negations, such that the second nicht can be interpreted as part of the word nichtgehen which you won't find in any dictionary, but still will be understood as the opposite of gehen, i.e. as stay

Ich will nicht nicht-gehen.
I don't want to not-go.

But this is very unusual, and the chances that this will be understood are definitely lower than 100%.

But more common in German is to use a negation of a negated adjective.

Das ist nicht unüblich. = Das ist üblich.

The adjective üblich means common. You can invert the meaning of almost every adjective by adding the prefix un-.

You use the construction "nicht un-<adjective>" mainly if the negative adjective was expected, but it turns out, that in fact the positive is true. So, you think a young man is poor at playing the piano, but when you hear him playing, you realize, that he is talented. Then you say instead of »Er ist talentiert«:

Er ist nicht untalentiert.

The un- trick doesn't work with adverbs, because negating them doesn't make much sense (sehr, bald, montags, dort, daher, immerhin, also, doch, ...). The modal adverb gern is the only exception I know:

Ich mache das eigentlich gar nicht so ungern. = Ich mache das eigentlich ganz gern.

But almost all adjectives can also be used adverbial, and then you still can use un-:

Er bewegt sich nicht sehr unauffällig. = Er bewegt sich auffällig.


Beware also, that double negation can have the opposite effect in some German dialects like Bavarian:

Ich will gar nie nicht gehen.

The word gar is a modal particle, that best is translated by ignoring it. (Search for "modal particle" or "Modalpartikel" here on German.stackexchange to learn more about this) So, here is the word-by-word translation:

I want never not go.

This double negation is not understood as "I want to go", but as "I under no circumstances want to go." So, it is an enforcement of a negation. You stress out the negation by repeating it.

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  • The nicht un-<adj/adv> pattern has the fundamental difference that it contains two different negative instead of a single, repeated one – but it is probably still the better option here. Would “Also, ich will nicht un-gern(e) fahren” work? Commented May 30, 2023 at 21:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: I added something about adverbs in my answer. I hope, it helps Commented May 31, 2023 at 9:03
  • "The un- trick doesn't work with adverbs, because negating them doesn't make much sense" - true for most of the adverbs you list, but I can well imagine using "unbald" as a humorous way to say "not very soon". Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 10:49
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Yes, this can be used in German, too, exactly with your wording. Both "nicht" are strongly emphasized in speaking in order to make it understandable.

Ich will nicht nicht gehen.

Also, yes, it is weird-sounding, but that's part of the intended effect, isn't it?

A less weird-sounding alternative would be to change the word order, which is a common way to shift emphasis in German. (We also like to insert "Partikel" that connect the sentence to the context and clarify the intention.)

Nicht gehen will ich (auch or jedenfalls) nicht.

or

Nicht gehen will ich auf keinen Fall.

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  • The last two examples sound just as weird. Commented May 30, 2023 at 6:36
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The English construction only works because of the “do”, hence it cannot be reproduced in German. You can say

Ich will nicht nicht gehen.

but that would correspond to

I don’t want to not go.

Which is different.

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    The construction works in English without do as well (‘it’s not not funny’, ‘I haven’t not told him’). You’re right that there is a fundamental difference between ‘I don’t not want to go’ (which negates want twice = I do want to go) and ‘I don’t want to not go’ (which negates each verb once = I don’t want to stay), but is the difference significant enough that the German version wouldn’t work? Commented May 30, 2023 at 21:40
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The German sentence

Ich will nicht nicht gehen

sounds really weird and I have never heard people using phrases like this. However, it is not wrong and one would certainly understand it.

The use of double negation is quite common in some German dialects, but normally it is not intended to be a humorous response. It is just a strong form of negation.

In Bavarian you can often hear sentences like

I mog koan Kas net [ich mage keinen Käse nicht / I don't like no cheese]

Des wead nix Gscheids ned [das wird nichts Gescheites nicht / this will not be nothing clever]

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