French Negative Expressions

Beginner French - Level A2

Overview
The most standard negative phrase in French may already deter some, as it has two parts, the ne and the pas. These are placed before and after verbs, e.g., “Je ne sais pas.” This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, except that negations involving compound tenses and infinitives get a bit more complex, especially when object pronouns are thrown into the mix. 
In addition to the ne... pas negation, French has others that are used in a more emphatic or restrictive way, or to negate a series of items. They function more or less in the same way as ne... pas, with adverbs of negation following the ne... pas pattern and some negations involving indefinite pronouns or adjectives shifting to take the place of subjects or objects within a phrase.
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French Negative Expressions

In A1.1 Module 5, we learned how to make a sentence negative in French. Since then, we’ve been practicing more complex sentences. In this module, we will learn additional ways to negate sentences that function identically to the “ne” and “pas” combination we’ve already learned. Take a look at the model sentence below. Then, review the chart with common negative expressions and compare how they are placed in the example sentences with the model sentence provided.

Model Negative Sentence:      Je ne vais pas au bureau aujourd’hui.

                                                                        I am not going to the office today.

 

Negation

Meaning

Example and Translation

ne...jamais

never

Je ne vais jamais en France.

 

I am never going to France.

ne...plus

no longer / no more

Tu ne bois plus d’eau gazeuse.

 

You no longer drink any soda.

ne...personne

no one, nobody/anybody

Il ne voit personne pendant la nuit.

He doesn’t see anybody at night.

ne...que

only

Nous ne cuisinons que pour notre famille.

 

We only cook for our family.

ne...rien

nothing

Après le travail, vous ne faites rien.

 

After work, you do nothing.

*ne...ni...ni...

neither...nor

Elles n’achètent ni des jeux ni du maquillage.

 

They don’t buy neither games nor makeup.

 

*Notice how nearly all the new negation expressions follow the same pattern as the ne and pas. The “ne” comes before the conjugated verb in the sentence, and the second part of the negation comes after. In the last example (neither...nor), the “ne” comes before the verb and both “ni” parts precede a noun with either a definite or indefinite article.

Negation in the Other Tenses:

So far in our modules, we’ve learned the present tense (le présent), the past tense (le passé composé), the near future (le futur proche), and the simple future (le futur simple). Negation in all of these tenses functions the same way as it does in the present as long as you conjugate the verbs appropriately for the tense you’re using. Below you will find an example negative sentence in each one of these tenses. Play the closest attention to le passé composé (examples 2 and 3). Look at how the conjugated verbs of the sentence are the auxiliary verbs avoir and être. This is why you will see the negation sandwiching those conjugations.

Example 1: Le Présent

Je naime plus la glace au chocolat.

I no longer like chocolate ice cream.

Example 2: Le Passé Composé avec Avoir                Example 3: Le Passé Composé avec Être

Il na jamais vu ce film.                                              Nous ne sommes que sortis le week-end.

He has never seen this movie.                                     We only went out on the weekends.

 

*Example 4: Le Futur Proche

Vous nallez pas partir sans moi!

You are not going to leave without me!

 

Example 5: Le Futur Simple

Ils ne feront rien ce soir.

They will do nothing tonight.

*Notice how in Example 4, there are two verbs in the sentence - allez and partir. When there are two verbs, the negation often sandwiches the first one, as it is the conjugated verb. You will have a question like this in the exercise provided in the module.

Other Useful Negative Words and Expressions:

  • ça ne fait rien (it doesn't matter)
  • de rien (you're welcome)
  • jamais de la vie! (never! out of the question! not on your life!)
  • pas du tout (not at all)
  • pas encore (not yet)
  • pas maintenant (not now)
  • rien (nothing)
  • personne (no one)
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Additional Activities

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Directions: Rewrite the following sentences by using the negation provided in parentheses.

  • Je veux faire du ski. (no longer)
  • Elle a conduit ma voiture. (never)
  • Nous écrivons des cartes et des lettres. (neither...nor)

Directions: Answer the following questions or statement with a useful negative word or expression provided in this module (see bulleted list).

  • Merci beaucoup!
  • Tu vas avec Sophie maintenant?
  • Quelle boisson choisis-tu?

 

Answers and Translation

  • Je ne veux plus faire du ski. / I no longer want to ski.
  • Elle na jamais conduit ma voiture. / She never drove my car.
  • Nous n’écrivons ni des cartes ni des lettres. / We are not writing neither cards nor letters.
  • De rien / Thank you a lot! → You’re welcome
  • Pas maintenant / Are you going with Sophie now? → Not now
  • Ça ne fait rien. / What drink are you choosing ? → It doesn’t matter.


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