fbpx

Use of “double negative” in CPF Board’s formal statements condemned by English experts

CPF Board has come out to strongly deny that the government had quietly shifted the “retirement payout age” from 65 to 70, in a media report yesterday (20 Jan).

CPF Board’s denial came in response to a recent message circulating online. Someone had posted a picture of a mail he received from CPF Board, notifying him that if would like to receive his CPF payouts starting at 70 years old, he did not have to do anything. However, if he intends to receive his payouts starting at 65, he would still need to inform the CPF Board.

CPF Board told the media that the payout eligibility age for the Retirement Sum Scheme has not changed since it was announced in 2007.

“They can apply to start their payouts any time between the ages of 65 and 70. If they do not wish to start payouts before age 70, they need not do anything,” the CPF spokesman said. In other words, if members wish to start payouts before age 70, they need to do something about it – in this case, informing CPF Board to make the necessary changes.

The spokesman also said that the CPF Act was amended in 2016 to allow for this automatic payout arrangement, which took effect in Jan 2018. The automatic starting of payouts at age 70 “helps to simplify the activation process for members so they can start to enjoy a retirement income from their CPF savings,” the spokesman added.

Use of double negatives to be avoided

The official statement from the CPF spokesman – “If they do not wish to start payouts before age 70, they need not do anything” – actually constitutes a double negative statement.

Double negatives are two negative words used in the same sentence. Using two negatives turns the thought or sentence into a positive one. Double negatives are not encouraged in English because they are poor grammar and they can be confusing. They can be sometimes found in song lyrics and informal speeches but should be avoided in formal English sentences.

Oxford Dictionaries said that double negatives aren’t considered acceptable in current standard English and they should be avoided “in all but very informal situations”.

An article in BBC also noted that a double negative sentence usually causes more confusion for people.

“A double-negative sentence has one word which flips the meaning of the rest, and another which flips it right back again,” BBC explained. “But it usually causes more confusion when it is used than when it isn’t.”

VOA (Voice of America) Learning English also shared an article saying that English teachers generally do not like double negatives because they can be confusing and illogical.

“Starting in elementary school, teachers tell students to avoid them. But many native English speakers still use double negatives,” it said. It noted that politicians, lawyers and diplomats sometimes use double negatives in sensitive situations when they are speaking.

VOA shared that actually, English speakers have been using double negatives for centuries. But it was Robert Lowth who decided that the double negative had no place in English grammar.

Robert Lowth was a leader in the Church of England. In 1762, he wrote a book called A Short Introduction to English Grammar. Mr. Lowth proposed many restrictions on English grammar, many of them inspired by Latin. Over the years, his rules became the standard for teaching grammar all over the English-speaking world, VOA explained.

“But the double negative is alive and well, especially in informal speech,” it noted.

In any case, CPF Board is a government statutory board and not a political or diplomatic organization. It is set up to service the people. As such, it would be its duty to speak in a simple and direct manner in its communication to the pubiic. Double negatives in public statements should be avoided, as like many English experts have noted, they can cause confusion.