なくはない - double negatives

In English you can use a double negative to give a wishy washy response.

For example:
Question: "Are you happy?"
Response: “I’m not not happy.”

I googled “japanese double negative”, and found stuff about なくはない here. The article says:

Double negative means that the negative form is used twice in a single sentence. However, that’s not the same nuance as positive sentences. […], double negatives are closer to normal negative sentences.

Based on this article, saying「嬉しくなくはない」would be closer to saying 「嬉しくない」 than 「嬉しい」. To the people who have heard this in context, do you agree that this construct is more similar to the negative than the positive?

Also, I’m wondering if this has the same nuance between Japanese and English. Do you guys think the English “I’m not not happy” similarly is closer to “I’m not happy”? Or would you say it’s closer to “I am happy”. Or is it more neutral? I can’t pin down exactly what the nuance is even in English, so I’d appreciate other opinions.

Finally if there is another (or a better) way to say something like “I’m not not happy”, please let me know.

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As far as the English nuance goes, I’d say “I’m not not happy” sounds closer to something negative, closer to “I’m not happy”

A better way to say it would be something like “I’m not unhappy”, with some emphasis on the “un

To me this sounds like you’re making a point that you’re not necessarily unhappy, but you’re not happy either so it sounds slightly negative overall

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I’d say one way to translate 嬉しくなくはない is “It’s not that I’m unhappy…”

I don’t know if that’s closer to I’m not happy or I’m happy. Maybe that’s why it has it’s own construct.

I think it’s purely contextual in English with a bias towards whether the question is positive or negative. Using a double negative against a positive question is usually biased towards the negative, while using a double negative against a base negative statement is either used to counter the question directly.

「嫌いじゃない」= “I don’t dislike it/him/her”

If used as a reply to if you like something, it likely insinuates you don’t really like it that much, but can tolerate it (in other words, closer to the negative). If you as a reply to if you dislike something, it’s a direct counter to the question and therefore much closer to the positive. When dealing with topics of people, I’d say it’s more likely to be negative if said about something and more likely to be positive if its said to someone, as the former is to not appear mean/rude while the latter is to not insinuate anything more than the topic.

Positive Counter: "I don’t dislike it."
Negative Bias: "I don’t dislike it, but I’d rather not."
Softened Negative: "I don’t dislike it, but I don’t like it either.

It’s a very different meaning to reply “I’m unhappy/not happy” if the question is “Are you happy?” or “Are you unhappy/not happy?”

Although, thinking about it, would the Japanese consider 嫌い negative, as it isn’t grammatically negative in Japanese? As @MissMisc pointed out, English’s tendency for using prefixes to turn positive concepts negative makes things a bit weirder, since that gives us three “levels,” a positive (like/happy), a positive-turned-negative (dislike/unhappy), and a base negative (don’t like/sad, angry, etc).

Really, the vocal tone is what usually seems to determine the meaning for me when listening to Japanese. If you get your cliche だけど or a drop in vocal pitch at the end of the sentence, it’s likely negative. If it’s a solid, flat sentence, it’s probably a positive method of wording thoughts without having to directly state them.

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I don’t think I would ever use a double negative for responding to a negative question in English, since this would lead to a triple negative. Also, if the question is “do you dislike it” and you just respond with a double negative like “I don’t dislike it”, you would never emphasize the “dis” part. In that case, I agree with you that it’s just countering the original question. But I think that case is pretty clear cut, which is why I’m curious about the double negative response to a positive question.

In English I would consider this a negative, and since my question was about a double negation from the original question, this would lead to a triple negative. For example, “I don’t not dislike it”. I don’t think you’d say something like that in English. But I’m also curious about if this triple negative would work in Japanese. Could people reasonably say 「嫌いじゃないことはない」?

But replying “I don’t dislike it” to “Do you dislike it?” is using a double negative to answer a negative question? You don’t end up with a triple negative but a negative reply to a negative questions automatically results in a double negative. Double negatives are a native function as a reply towards negative questions unless you reply with “No, insert positive statement.”

I can’t really think of a circumstance I’ve encountered where a double negative is used in reply to a positive question outside of anime, and even then the only one that comes to mind is the reply to “Do you like him/her.” In cases where I see a double negative, more often it’s using the わけじゃない・わけでわない construction than a straight up くなくはない. So I suppose I can’t be of any use in affirming either. :rofl:

Right, right. I was talking about the theoretical situation (which would never happen in English) where you’d respond with “I don’t not dislike it” (triple negative). As I said, I think the double negative response to a negative question is pretty clear cut - you’re refuting the negative question (as you originally said).

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Would you count using わけ as a double negative?

For example:

あなたの気持ちがわからないわけじゃない

Which I think you would translate as

ー> It’s not that I don’t understand how you feel

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Yea I wanted to point out something like this because Japanese makes pretty extensive usage of double negatives, another example is 話せないことはない

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