Negative means saying we are not or we don’t. In French a negative is made by putting ‘ne’ in front of the verb and ‘pas’ after the verb (the verb is the doing word).

For example…

Je ne veux pas aller au cinéma.” – “I don’t want to go to the cinema.”

Nous ne regardons pas la télé.” – “We’re not watching tv.”

If the verb starts with a vowel or silent ‘h’, shorten ‘ne’ to ‘n”. For example…

Vous n’avez pas de frères.” – “You haven’t got any brothers.”

There are other words that can be substituted for ‘pas’ in a negative to say ‘never’, ‘nothing’, ‘nobody’, etc. For example…

Il ne va jamais au théâtre.” – “He never goes to the cinema.”

Tu n’as rien à faire.” – “You have nothing to do.”

Il n’y a personne dans le jardin.” – “There is nobody in the garden.”

Je n’ai plus d’argent.” – “I have no more money.” or “I have no money left.”

Nous n’avons aucun problème.” – “We haven’t got a single problem.”

Elle n’a que trois jours de congé.” – “She has only three days off.”

Ils ne vont nulle part.” – “They are not going anywhere.”

Je ne veux ni viande ni poisson.” – “I want neither meat nor fish.” or “I don’t want either meat or fish.”

If you have a verb in the perfect tense, treat the auxiliary (avoir or être) as the verb, with ‘ne’ in front of it and ‘pas’/’jamais’/’rien’ after it:

Je n’ai pas lu ce livre.” – “I haven’t read this book.”

Il n’a rien dit.” – “He didn’t say anything.”

Vous n’avez jamais parlé de cela.” – “You have never spoken about that.”

However, in the case of ‘ne…que’ and ‘ne…personne’, ‘ne’ comes before the auxiliary, and ‘que/personne’ follow the past participle:

Tu n’as vu que deux films.” – “You have only seen two films.”

Elle n’a attendu personne.” – “She didn’t wait for anybody.”

The same rules apply with other compound tenses: the past perfect (pluperfect), future perfect and conditional perfect.

Nous n’avions rien mangé avant de sortir.” – “We hadn’t eaten anything before going out.”

Elles ne seront pas rentrées avant huit heures.” – “They won’t have come home by eight o’clock.”

Je n’aurais reservé que deux chambres…” – “I would only have reserved two rooms…”

If we have to make a negative infinitive, ‘ne’ and ‘pas’ go together and are placed before the infinitive:

Il m’a demande de ne pas fumer chez lui.” – “He asked me not to smoke at his house.”

J’ai decidé de ne rien acheter.” – “I decided not to buy anything.”

With thanks to Elizabeth Allen

Read more on French grammar: How to form questions

More on learning French…

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