Negative Forms

French Negative Forms

Understanding Negative Forms

  • In French, a sentence is negated by inserting two parts in the sentence, commonly ‘ne’ and ‘pas’.
  • This common French negative expression is known as negation.
  • The ‘ne’ is placed before the verb, and ‘pas’ is placed after: ‘Je ne comprends pas(I don’t understand).

Types of Negative Forms

  • There are multiple negative phrases in French, not just ‘ne…’+’pas’.
  • Other negative forms include ‘nejamais’ (never), ‘nerien’ (nothing), ‘neplus’ (no more), ‘nepersonne’ (no one), and others.
  • For example, to say ‘I don’t see anyone’, you’d say ‘Je ne vois personne’.

Negative Without Verbs

  • Not all negative sentences use verbs. For example, saying ‘Non, merci(No, thank you), or ‘Rien d’autre(Nothing else).

Position of Negative Forms

  • Sentence order changes in more complex sentences. When using a complex tense which includes an auxiliary verb, both ‘ne’ and ‘pas’ surround the auxiliary: ‘Je n’ai pas dansé(I didn’t dance).

Negatives with Object Pronouns

  • If the sentence includes an object pronoun (‘le’, ‘la’, ‘les’, ‘lui’, ‘leur’, ‘y’, and ‘en’), the object pronoun comes after ‘ne’ and before the verb, and ‘pas’ follows the verb: ‘Je ne le vois pas(I don’t see it).

Negative Questions

  • In formal French, when forming a question using inversion, the subject pronoun and verb are inverted, but ‘ne’ and ‘pas’ still straddle the verb. For example: ‘N’avez-vous pas faim?(Aren’t you hungry?)
  • However, in informal speech, ‘ne’ is often dropped in negative questions. For example, ‘Tu veux pas jouer?(Don’t you want to play?).

Compound Negative Expressions

  • When using two negative expressions together, such as ‘ne…rien’ and ‘ne…personne’, the two parts of the negation always stay together: ‘Je ne vois rien(I see nothing) or ‘Je ne vois personne(I see no one).

Invariable Negative Adverbs

  • Ne…jamais’, ‘ne…pas encore’, and ‘ne…plus’ are used to negate a sentence in the past, present, and future tenses. These negative adverbs are referred to as invariable adverbs because they do not change form. For instance, ‘Je n’ai jamais mangé ça(I have never eaten that).

Omitting ‘Ne’ in Spoken French

  • In casual, spoken French, it’s common to drop the ‘ne’ and just use ‘pas’. For instance, instead of saying ‘Je ne sais pas(I don’t know), you’d say ‘J’sais pas’ in casual speech. However, in formal or written French, be sure to include both ‘ne’ and ‘pas’.

Remember, the key to mastering French negatives is practice! Keep revising these key structures and get plenty of practice in writing and conversation.