French Grammar: More about Negation

French Grammar: More About Negation

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French Grammar: More about Negation
la grammaire française: la négation – suite

Negation lets us say “no” to things in French! It also lets us express that things are NOT a certain way.



Negative constructions include the following:

ne … aucun(e) : no / none / not one / not any / neither

ne … guère : hardly / scarcely

ne … jamais : never

ne … ni … ni : neither / nor

ne … nulle part : nowhere / not anywhere

ne … pas : not

ne … pas du tout : not at all

ne … pas encore : not yet

ne … personne : no one / nobody /not anyone / not anybody

ne … plus : no longer / not anymore

ne … point : not / not at all (this construction is VERY formal!)

ne … rien : nothing / not anything

a. A sentence is made negative – in simple as well as compound tenses – by placing the word ne before the verb and the specific negative word(s) after the verb.  If the verb begins with a vowel, a silent letter ‘h’, or the word ‘y’, ne becomes n’. If  a reflexive and/or object pronoun precedes the verb, then ne (or n’) is placed before the reflexive and/or object pronoun.

Ils n’arrivent jamais à l’heure!
They (masculine) never arrive on time!

Nous ne pouvons guère entendre la musique.
We can hardly hear the music.

Mon fils ne se rase pas encore.
My son does not shave yet.

Le professeur ne nous a pas donné de devoirs.
The professor did not give us homework.

b. The ‘que’ in the construction ne … que is placed in front of the stressed word(s).

La chemise ne coûte que vingt dollars.
The shirt costs only twenty dollars.

Je ne vais le dire qu’une fois.
I am only going to say it once.

c. Aucun(e) is only used in the singular and comes before the noun it modifies.

Je n’avais aucune idée.
I had no idea.

Les soldats n’ont capturé aucun ennemi.
The soldiers did not capture any enemies.

Le comité ne peut arriver à aucune décision.
The committee cannot reach any decision.

d. Each element of the ne … ni … ni construction comes before the stressed word(s).

Je n’aime ni l’un ni l’autre.
I like neither one nor the other.

Elle ne peut ni danser ni chanter.
She can neither dance nor sing.

Nous n’avons pas acheté ni le divan ni la table basse.
We bought neither the couch nor the coffee table.

e. To negate an infinitive, both ne (or n’) and the second part of the negative construction are placed before the infinitive.

Elles avaient honte de ne jamais répondre à l’invitation.
They (feminine) were ashamed of never responding to the invitation.

f. The exceptions to (a) and (e) above are ne … personne and ne … nulle part. Although the ne (or n’) in either of these constructions is still placed before the conjugated verb, personne or nulle part come after the infinitive (or past participle).

Je ne peux voir personne.
I cannot see anyone. / I can see no one.

Nous n’avons vu la clé nulle part.
We didn’t see the key anywhere.

g. Personne, rien, and aucun(e) can function as the subject of a sentence. When used this way, personne, rien, or aucun(e) comes at the beginning of the sentence.  The ne (or n’) is still placed before the conjugated verb.  In this construction, the conjugated verb is always in the third person singular form.

Personne ne parle.
No one is speaking.

Rien n’est prêt.
Nothing is ready.

Aucun étudiant ne reste dans la salle de classe.
None of the students remain in the classroom. / No student remains in the classroom.

h. Ne must always be used with a verb, but the second part of most negative constructions can be used on their own without a verb (although pas and plus both need a modifier).

Qui parle?
Who is speaking?

No one.

Qu’est-ce qu’il veut?
What does he want?


Tu as aimé le film?
Did you like the film?

Pas trop.
Not too much.

i. Often, si (“yes!”) or mais si (“why, yes!”) is used in place of oui to contradict a negative question or statement.

Ils n’ont pas sorti les ordures?
They didn’t take out the garbage?

(Mais) Si, ils ont sorti les ordures hier soir.
(Why) Yes, they took out the garbage last night.

Tu ne penses pas qu’il est beau?
Don’t you think he is handsome?

(Mais) Si! Je pense qu’il est beau!
(Why) Yes! I think he is handsome!


Elle ne voit son sac à main nulle part.
She does not see her purse anywhere.

Aucun étudiant a échoué à l’examen.
None of the students failed the exam.

Je ne parle ni le chinois ni l’arabe.
I speak neither Chinese nor Arabic.

Nous ne suivons qu’un cours ce semestre.
We are taking only one course this semester.

Anne ne sort pas ce soir et Albert ne sort non plus.
Anne is not going out this evening and Albert is not going out either.

Vous ne viendrez pas à la fête?
You all are not coming to the party?

Mais si! Nous viendrons!
Why, yes! We’re coming!

Tu manges de la malbouffe?
Do you (informal) eat junk food?