French Negative Expressions

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.
Never say never scrabble letters word on a blue background

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.

NegationMeaningExample and Translation
ne…jamaisneverJe ne vais jamais en France. I am never going to France.
ne…plusno longer / no moreTu ne bois plus d’eau gazeuse. You no longer drink any soda.
ne…personneno one, nobody/anybodyIl ne voit personne pendant la nuit. He doesn’t see anybody at night.
ne…queonlyNous ne cuisinons que pour notre famille. We only cook for our family.
ne…riennothingAprès le travail, vous ne faites rien. After work, you do nothing.
*ne…ni…ni…neither…norElles 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)

Highlighted Author:

France, Paris, Smiling woman standing on a bridge with the Eiffel tower in the background
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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.