French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Negation (e.g.: je ne parle pas)

An Overview of French Negation

In writing, negative sentences have the following structure: ne + verb + pas, e.g. je ne veux pas aller à la plage. In other words, negation is indicated both before and after the verb in written French.

The first part is ne before consonants and n’ before vowels (e.g.: je n’ai pas de devoir) and the second part is one of the following: pas ("not"), rien ("nothing"), jamais ("never"), plus ("no longer"), aucun ("none").

Points to keep in mind

  • After a negative statement, use the form de rather than des. For example, j’ai des devoirs, but je n’ai pas de devoir.
  • Double negative structures are not permitted in standard French. In other words, write je n'ai rien compris (not je n'ai pas rien compris).
  • When using the infinitive in a negative structure, place both negative elements before the infinitive, not around it, e.g.: On lui a dit de ne pas faire trop de bruit.

Tricky stuff

Historically, written French has accepted the absence of pas after a small number of verbs: savoir, pouvoir, oser, cesser (e.g.: je ne saurais lui dire la vérité). This is a literary usage and the presence of pas is common with these verbs as well as all others (i.e.: it is perfectly natural to write je ne saurais pas lui dire la vérité as well).

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