The University of Chicago Press,
Exercises from LEGAL WRITING IN PLAIN ENGLISH, Bryan A. Garner

§ 10. Avoid multiple negatives.



Recast the following sentences in positive form:

  • Notice will not be effective unless it is delivered in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • In the absence of any proof to the contrary, the court should presume that the administrator's functions have not ceased.
  • No termination will be approved unless the administrator reviews the application and finds that it is not lacking any requisite materials.


Recast the following sentences in positive form:

  • There is no issue of material fact that Renfro cannot establish that Aniseed, Inc. owed her a duty to prevent the injury she claims to have suffered.
  • Bendola cannot be permitted to stand on nothing more than unsubstantiated and self-laudatory statements as a basis for denying summary judgment.
  • No reason for refusing confirmation of the master's report not covered by the exceptions in the rule is disclosed by the record or urged by the defendants.
  • A plan shall not be treated as not satisfying the requirements of this section solely because the spouse of the participant is not entitled to receive a survivor annuity (whether or not an election has been made), unless both the participant and the spouse have been married throughout the one-year period ending on the date of the participant's death.


Find a sentence in published writing that is burdened with at least two negatives that you can easily--and with no change in meaning--recast in the positive. If you're a member of a writing group or class, provide each colleague with a copy of the original (with a citation) and your revised version.

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© 2001, Bryan A. Garner

These exercises appear in Bryan A. Garner's Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, published by The University of Chicago Press and available at bookstores and on the Web at