Negation

In French, a negative is generally made up of two parts. The negative may or may not include the word non (no).

Consider the following examples:

  • Je ne danse pas bien. (I don't dance well.)
  • Il ne chante jamais. (He never sings.)

The list below shows the most common French negatives: 

 

Note the following about negatives:

Ne … pas is the most frequently used.

Rien and personne may be used as subjects of a verb. In such cases, ne retains its place before the conjugated verb:

  • Rien ne m'énerve. (Nothing bothers me.)
  • Personne n'est en retard. (Nobody is late.)

Double negatives are generally not used in French. Multiple negatives, however, are used (although infrequently) only with plus or jamais + another negative:

  • Il ne voit plus personne. (He no longer sees anybody.)
  • Elle ne dit plus rien. (She says nothing more.)
  • Je ne le verrai plus jamais. (I'll never see him anymore.)
  • Tu ne crois jamais personne. (You never believe anyone.)
  • Il n'accomplit jamais rien. (He never accomplishes anything.)
  • Je ne le verrai jamais plus. (I'll never see him anymore.)

Some words used in questions produce a logical negative response, as shown below:

Jamais, when used completely alone or with ne and a verb, means “never”; when used with a verb but without ne, jamais means “ever”:

  • Tu fumes? (Do you smoke?)
  • Jamais. (Never.)
  • Je ne chante jamais. (I never sing.)
  • As‐tu jamais voyagé en France? (Have you ever traveled to France?)

Forming the negative

In simple tenses, ne precedes the conjugated verb and any object pronouns, and the second part of the negative follows the conjugated verb:

  • Tu lui téléphones quelquefois? (Do you call him/her sometimes?)
  • Je ne lui téléphone jamais. (I never call him/her.)
  • Tu veux manger quelque chose? (Do you want to eat something?)
  • Je ne veux rien manger. (I don't want to eat anything.)
  • Je ne mange ni fruits ni légumes. (I eat neither fruits nor vegetables.)

In compound tenses, ne precedes the conjugated helping verb and any object pronouns, and the second part of the negative follows the conjugated helping verb (except for personne, nulle part, and aucun [always used in the singular], which follow the past participle when they are used as objects):

  • Tu l'as vu? (Did you see him?)
  • Non, je ne l'ai pas vu. (No, I didn't see him.)
  • Je n'ai vu personne. (I didn't see anyone.)
  • Il n'est allé nulle part. (He didn't go anywhere.)
  • Elle n'a fait aucune faute. (She didn't make any mistakes.)

Que and ni … ni precede the word(s) stressed:

  • Je ne vais le faire qu'une fois. (I'm only going to do it once.)
  • Il n'a ni bu ni mangé. (He neither drank nor ate.)
  • Il n'a bu ni le jus ni l'eau. (He drank neither the juice nor the water.)

Ne or the second part of the negative may be omitted as follows:

Ne is often used without pas with pouvoir, savoir, cesser, and oser before an infinitive:

  • Il ne pouvait le faire. (He couldn't do it.)
  • Elle ne cesse de travailler. (She doesn't stop working.)

Ne is used without pas when il y a (or voici or voilà) … que is followed by a compound tense:

  • Il y a un an que je ne t'ai vu. (I haven't seen you for a year.)

The second part of the negative may stand alone:

  • Qu'est‐ce que tu fais? (What are you doing?)
  • Rien. (Nothing.)
  • Qui va travailler? (Who is going to work?)
  • Ni lui ni moi. (Neither he nor I.)

Some common negative expressions include:

  • ça ne fait rien (it doesn't matter)
  • de rien (you're welcome)
  • jamais de la vie (not on your life)
  • il n'y a pas de quoi (you're welcome)
  • ni … non plus (not … either)
  • ni l'un ni l'autre (neither one or the other)
  • n'en pouvoir plus (to be exhausted)
  • n'importe (it doesn't matter)
  • n'importe où (no matter where)
  • n'importe quand (no matter when)
  • n'importe qui (no matter who)
  • pas du tout (not at all)
  • pas encore (not yet)
  • pas maintenant (not now)