French Grammar For Dummies
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In French, you need two negative words, ne (no) and pas (not), to make a sentence negative. Pas can be replaced by other negative words, such as jamais (never), personne (no one), and rien (nothing). Here’s what else you need to know in order to make a French sentence negative:

  • The two negative words are placed around (before and after) the conjugated verb, like this: Tu ne joues pas. (You don’t play.)

  • If a conjugated verb begins with a vowel, ne becomes n’. For example: Ils n’ont pas de chien. (They don’t have a dog.)

  • In a negative command, ne and pas surround the verb, regardless of the absence of subject in the sentence. For example: Ne fais pas ça! (Don’t do that!)

  • In a sentence with an object pronoun, like it, him, or her, the placement of ne changes like this: subject + ne + pronoun + verb + pas. For example: Je ne le vois jamais. (I never see him.)

  • Use aucun/aucune (absolutely no/none whatsoever) as the second negative word in a sentence to insist on the zero quantity. For example: Je n’ai aucune idée! (I have absolutely no idea!)

  • If a verb is followed by a preposition, as in jouer avec (to play with), the placement of pas/second negative changes like this: subject + ne + verb + preposition + pas/second negative. For example: Il ne joue avec personne. (He plays with no one.)

  • For verbs in the passé composé (present perfect), keep in mind that the conjugated verb is the auxiliary être (to be) or avoir (to have), not the past participle! For example, Il n’a pas voyagé. (He didn’t travel.) Here’s the formula: Subject + ne + conjugated form of être or avoir + pas + past participle.

    In the passé composé, the second negative words personne (no one), nulle part (nowhere), ni (neither/nor), and aucun (none) + noun go after the past participle, not before. Ne stays in the same place. For example: Nous n’avons vu personne. (We saw no one.) Here’s the formula: Subject + ne + conjugated form of être or avoir + past participle + personne/nulle part/ni/aucun.

  • For verbs in the futur proche (near future), keep in mind that the conjugated verb is aller (to go), so you place the two negative words around it, like you do with a regular negative. For example: Vous n’allez rien faire ce weekend. (You aren’t going to do anything this weekend.)

    In the futur proche, the negative words personne, nulle part, ni, and aucun go after the infinitive, not before. For example: Tu ne vas prendre aucun médicament. (You’re not going to take any medication.) Here’s the formula: Subject + ne + aller +infinitive + personne/nulle part/ni/aucun.

  • Rien (nothing) and personne (nobody) can sometimes be the subject of the verb, like in English. In that case, start the sentence with either one of those words and proceed regularly with ne in front of the conjugated verb. For example: Rien n’est important (Nothing is important) and Personne ne fait la vaisselle (Nobody does the dishes). Here’s the formula: Rien or Personne + ne + verb.

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Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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