French Negation: Your Ultimate Guide to Negative Adverbs, Adjectives, Pronouns and More
So, you’ve learned how to conjugate in French and talk bout things you’re doing… but how do you talk about things that you’re not doing?
Knowing how to negate your sentences in French is really helpful in communicating exactly what you mean.
You can clear up a lot with la négation (negation), so let’s start with the basics and build from there.
- Basic French Negation Using Ne… Pas
- French Negation Using Adverbs
- French Negation Using Adjectives
- French Negation Using Pronouns
- French Negation Using N’importe
- Practicing French Negation
Basic French Negation Using Ne… Pas
To make a sentence negative in French, we use the words ne and pas. These two words surround the main verb in simple tenses (i.e. when there’s only one conjugated verb in the sentence).
Je ne parle pas espagnol.
(I don’t speak Spanish).
Il ne va pas à l’école demain.
(He’s not going to school tomorrow).
There are a few things to note when using the ne… pas negative construction.
Firstly, when the verb following ne starts with a vowel, ne is shortened to n’:
Elle n’est pas heureuse.
(She isn’t happy.)
Also when speaking, it’s very common for the French to drop the ne so that only the pas remains.
Je ne sais pas. → Je sais pas.
(I don’t know.)
When there’s an indefinite article (such as un or une) or a partitive article (such as du, de la or des being used to mean “some”) after a negative, the article changes to de.
J’ai des livres. → Je n’ai pas de livres.
(I have some books. → I don’t have any books.)
With the passé composé, the order follows this pattern:
ne + verbe auxiliaire + pas (or other word) + participe passé.
Lastly, to negate infinitives, both ne and pas precede the infinitive verb:
Il est nécessaire de ne pas manger avant de faire du sport.
(It is necessary to not eat before doing sports).
Tu m’as dit de ne pas lire ce livre.
(You told me not to read that book).
Ne pas ouvrir la fenêtre.
(Don’t open the window).
French Negation Using Adverbs
While the ne… pas construction is technically a negative adverb, other adverbs can either be used in place of or alongside pas to negate the verb.
Check out these additional negative adverbs:
ne… pas encore — not yet
Je n’ai pas encore vu ce film.
(I have not yet seen that movie).
ne… pas toujours — not always
Il n’a pas toujours habité en France.
(He has not always lived in France).
ne… pas du tout — not at all
Elle n’aime pas du tout le café.
(She doesn’t like coffee at all.)
ne… jamais — never
Nous n’avons jamais visité la Chine.
(We’ve never visited China.)
ne… nulle part — not anywhere
Tu ne l’as trouvé nulle part.
(You didn’t find it anywhere.)
ne… plus — not anymore
Ils n’écrivent plus de lettres.
(They don’t write letters anymore.)
French Negation Using Adjectives
Like adverbs, adjectives can be used in place of pas in the negative construction.
This is different from using a negative adverb—the adjective must negate the following noun and therefore doesn’t follow the helper verb if there is one.
ne… aucun(e), ne… nul(le) — not any
Both these negative adjectives (aucun and nul) have the meaning of “not any” and are used to mean that there isn’t any of the noun that follows.
Additionally, these two negative adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun that follows.
Je n’ai aucun livre.
(I don’t have any books.)
Nul can also only be used with uncountable nouns such as “water,” “money,” “love” and “sadness.”
Il n’a aucune confiance en elle.
(He doesn’t have any confidence in her).
Ils ne voient nul mal.
(They don’t see any harm.)
Nous n’avons trouvé nulle eau.
(We haven’t found any water.)
French Negation Using Pronouns
Negative pronouns can be used in place of pas in a negative construction, but they are different because:
- They negate the pronoun that replaces the noun.
- When used after the verb, they can follow either the helper verb or the main verb in compound tenses.
- They can be moved to the beginning of the sentence.
Confused yet? Let me explain.
ne… personne — nobody/no one, anybody/any one
Let’s say I want to know if you saw Pierre at a party last week. I might ask:
As-tu vu Pierre à la fête la semaine dernière ?
(Did you see Pierre at the party last week?)
Now, maybe you didn’t go to the party. So you might respond:
Je n’ai vu personne.
(I didn’t see anyone.)
In this situation, personne is acting as a pronoun because it is technically replacing the noun Pierre.
This negative pronoun can also come at the beginning of a sentence and be used as the subject (the doer of the verb).
Personne n’est venu hier.
(No one came yesterday.)
ne… rien — nothing, anything
Let’s look at another negative pronoun replacing a noun. In this case, the negative pronoun rien will replace l’université (the university).
— As-tu visité l’université hier ?
(Did you visit the university yesterday?)
— Non, je n’ai rien visité.
(No, I didn’t visit anything.)
As you can see, rien comes after the main verb (visité) in the first option, and after the helper verb (ai) in the second. Both are correct.
Like personne, rien can be used as the subject:
Rien ne peut m’arrêter.
(Nothing can stop me.)
French Negation Using N’importe
Just one more negative construction, I promise!
The expression n’importe means “no matter,” “any” or “whichever” in French and can be followed by an interrogative adjective, adverb or pronoun.
Note that when the construction includes quel (which), the word must agree in gender with the following noun. Check out these examples below.
Je veux n’importe quel livre.
(I want any book.)
Tu dois prendre n’importe quelle décision.
(You have to make whichever decision.)
Je peux visiter n’importe quand.
(I can visit any time.)
Fais-le n’importe comment.
(Do it any which way.)
Nous pouvons avoir notre rendez-vous n’importe où.
(We can have our meeting anywhere.)
N‘importe qui peut le lire.
(Anyone can read it.)
Il écoute n’importe quoi.
(He listens to anything.)
Practicing French Negation
To see all of these negation rules in action—and to experience all the many ways native speakers say “no,” in French, try to immerse yourself in authentic content. Think podcasts, French movies and talk shows, basically anything that will let you listen to French speakers conversing naturally with one another.
For example, FluentU is a language learning program built on a library of French media clips with interactive captions. The captions let you see every word that’s spoken in a video, and you can hover over anything unfamiliar to get instant definitions, pronunciations and extra usage examples.
Other than learning them in context with native videos, you can review these negative constructions in the post-video quizzes, or add phrases into a personal flashcard deck for additional practice.
You can also head on over to Lingolia for a mix of exercises on all the negative constructions we’ve covered. Some have you choose the correct word of negation between two options, and other types of questions have you rewrite positive sentences as negatives.
After that, UTexas has some slick fill-in-the-blank exercises where you can check your answers.
Finally, ProProfs has more quizzes to keep you reviewing those negative constructions for days.
Just don’t quit, okay?
See what I did there?