Negation in French

 

Expressing Negation in French

French takes a two-part modifier to indicate a negative statement. The most common of these two-part modifiers is “ne … pas.”

** “Ne … point” can be used interchangeably with “ne …pas” but the former indicates emphasis (e.g. Je n’en veux pas / I don’t want any vs. Je n’en veux point / I really don’t want any).

For simple tenses in French, the two-part modifiers surround the verb (e.g. Je ne vois pas grand chose / I don’t see much of anything;  Vous n’êtes pas sur la liste / You are not on the list).

For compound tenses in French, the two-part negating modifier splits the auxiliary and the past participle of the verb (e.g., Tu n’avais pas amené d’argent / You had not brought any money;  Elles ne sont pas rentrées hier soir / They did not return last night).

Negation Modifiers

French

English

ne…plus

not…anymore

nerien

not…anything

nejamais

never

*ne…personne

not…anyone

ne…pas encore

not yet

Examples:

La cloche ne sonne plus / The bell does not ring anymore.

Les ours polaires ne mangent rien l’hiver / Polar bears don’t eat anything during the winter.

Nous n’étions jamais allé voir un match / We had never gone to see a match.

Vous n’enviez personne / You don’t envy anyone.

Tu n’as pas encore fait tes devoirs / You haven’t done your homework yet.

*In the case where a French verb is followed by an infinitive (e.g. Tu fais (verb) répéter (infinitive) tes élèves / You make your students rehearse), personne follows after the infinitive (e.g. Tu ne fais (verb) répéter (infinitive) personne / You don’t make anyone rehearse).

Ne can also be used with que and guère. In these instances, the meaning conveyed is not one of negation. Ne with que means only; ne with guère means hardly/barely.

Ne  + Que or Guère

ne…guère / hardly, barely:  Je ne bois guère de café / I hardly drink any coffee

ne…que / only:  On ne regarde que lui / People only look at him

** Que doesn’t necessarily follow right after the verb.  Instead, it comes after the verb and right in front of the words being emphasized (e.g. Je n’ai arrêté de m’inquiéter que lorsqu’elle est revenue / I stopped worrying only when she came back).

In everyday conversations, the “ne” is often omitted. This is acceptable among friends and family but is frowned upon in more formal settings.

Examples:

Je n’ai pas envie / I don’t want to

Vous ne savez pas / You don’t know

Il ne répond pas / He doesn’t answer

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