Negation

Negation is the act of making a term, phrase, or clause negative or opposite. In this article, you will learn how to make negations.

What Is Negation in English Grammar?

What Does Negation Mean?

Negation is the act of negating or denying a word, sentence, or clause by using special words or particles. This is done to express that something is untrue or to deny something. Words that are used to indicate negation are called negative markers, and there are many ways to use them to negate a word, phrase, clause, or sentence.

Negative Markers: Types

There are different negative markers that can be used for negation:

  • Negative adverbs such as: not, neither, barely, neither/nor, hardly, rarely, never, etc.
  • Negative determiners such as: no, neither
  • Negative pronouns such as: nothing, nobody, no one, none, etc.

Negation Using Adverbs

There are some adverbs in English that carry a negative meaning and using them in affirmative sentences makes the whole sentence negative without the need to use negative verbs. The most important adverb that is used as a negative marker is 'not'. Other negative adverbs are hardly, little, never, only, scarcely, and seldom. Take a look at some examples:

Hardly she speaks to me.

In this example, 'hardly' means almost never.

I do not like him anymore.

There's hardly any milk.

I barely know him.

Using "neither-nor" in a sentence

Warning

Sometimes, when these adverbs are used at the beginning of a sentence, they require inversion of the subject and the verb. However, this is only the case when there is an auxiliary in the sentence. Check out the examples:

Never have I experienced this before.

Negative Determiners

The term 'no' is used as a determiner and a negative marker in affirmative sentences. The determiner 'no' can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, but when used with countable nouns, it is typically followed by plural countable nouns. Here are the examples:

No butter is added to the bread.

I received no mails.

Negative Pronouns

Negative pronouns are words such as nobody, no one, none, neither, nor, etc, that are used with negative meaning as negative markers in affirmative sentences. Here are the examples:

Nobody likes the teacher.

Nothing is more important than you.

Negation in Sentence

The negative markers are usually placed before the word they negate. We typically use negative adverbs to negate verbs and adjectives, and negative determiners to negate nouns. The negative pronouns are already negative and replace nouns in sentences.

How to use 'Not'

With 'To Be' Verbs

If the sentence contains 'to be' verbs, we just put 'not' before the predicate noun or adjective. Usually, in this way 'not' appears after the 'to be' verb. For example:

She is not her sister.

He was not ready to go to the party yet.

With Auxiliary Verb 'Have'

If the sentence contains the auxiliary verb 'have', we place 'not' right after the different forms of have (have, had, has) and before the main verb participle. Pay attention to the examples:

He has not been around lately.

They have not cooked dinner for their guests.

I promise, I haven't lied to you.

[forms of have] + not + [participle]

Tip!

As you know, 'have' can be both an auxiliary verb and an action verb. Do not confuse them. The action verb 'have' needs 'do' for negation, just like other action verbs.

They do not have anything to do.

He doesn't have the books.

With Modal Verbs

If the sentence contains modal verbs like 'should', 'can', 'must', etc. we should place 'not' after the modal verb and before the main verb. For example:

They cannot go out.

She should not stay out so late.

He must not go to his friend's house for sleepover.

[modal verb] + not + verb (bare infinitive)

With Other Verbs

If the sentence contains any other verb than the ones already mentioned, we should use the auxiliary verb 'do' to negate it. Take a look at the examples:

He does not sleep well at night.

She does not play this game well.

I do not do the dishes.

How to Use Neither or 'Neither...Nor'

'Neither...nor' is the negative form of 'either...or' and it is used in the same way. As already pointed out, 'neither...nor' is already negative so we do not need to use 'not' or any other negative markers in the sentence. Let's see some examples:

Neither my dad nor my mom lets me stay at my friend's sleepover.

Neither the red dress nor the green one suits me.

If we want to use 'neither' without 'nor' we should place it before the noun to express the meaning 'not this one and not the other one'.

Neither dress fits me.

Neither bed is comfy.

We can also use 'neither' as an adverb. Take a look at the following examples:

I don't like to go to parties and neither does my best friend.

She cannot sleep and neither can her sister.

It can also be used as a pronoun. For example:

I bought two dresses but neither fits me.

She sang two songs, neither sounded good.

Forming Negative Words

To negate a word, we can use prefixes such as 'de-', 'dis-', and 'un-', as well as suffixes such as '–less'. Here are some examples:

Unhappy

Disrespectful

Useless

Verbs of Uncertainty

Verbs such as 'think,' 'believe,' 'suppose', etc. which imply a feeling of uncertainty are usually used negatively and the sentence after them is usually affirmative. Check out the examples:

He never believed I've left him. → (Not 'He believed I have never left him.')

With the Verbs 'Wish' and 'Hope'

The verbs 'hope' and 'wish' are typically not negated, and instead, the sentence that follows them is often in the negative form. However, this is not always the case, as sometimes both sentences can be affirmative. Check out the examples:

I wish, Harry does not get in trouble.

I hope no one gets hurt.

I hope I will pass the exam.

In this example, both statements are used affirmatively.

Negative Interrogative Clauses

To make negative questions all you have to do is negate the auxiliary verb of the question. You can also use negative pronouns or adverbs in echo questions as a negative interrogative clause. Here are some examples:

No one is here?

Weren't you at the party?

Why didn't you call me?

Negative Non-finite Clauses

To negate non-finite clauses all you have to do is add 'not' before the non-finite clause or use an adverb before the non-finite clause. Negative pronouns or determiners can also be used to make a negative non-finite clause. Check out the sentences:

Not to disturb you, but who is coming again?

Hardly cooked well, the steak was immediately taken back to the kitchen.

Making no excuses, he left the apartment.

In this example, a negative determiner is used to negate the non-finite clause.

Negative Imperatives

Imperatives are non-finite clauses because they are made of bare infinitives. To negate imperatives all you have to do is add the phrase 'do not' (also contracted as don't) to the beginning of the imperative sentence. You can also use never as a negative marker for imperative sentences. Remember that you cannot use negative pronouns to make negative imperatives. Here are the examples:

Never cheat on your spouse.

No smoking!

Don't drive fast.

Emphasis

We can use negation to emphasize something by using 'at all' or 'whatsoever'. They almost mean the same, but 'whatsoever' is stronger. For example:

There is nothing at all left to say.

The place had no light whatsoever.

We can also use negation to be more polite at times by emphasizing. For example:

Do you mind if I use your bathroom? – not at all.

Have I given you any trouble? –no, none whatsoever dear!

Non-standard English

'Ain’t' is used in non-standard English as the negative form of the verb to be in the present form and also the negative form of the verb to have. Check out the examples:

I ain't in love with you. → I am not in love with you.

She ain't trying enough. → She isn't trying enough.

When we use a negative marker with another negative word in the same sentence or when we use a negative marker with a negative verb, a double negative is formed. Sometimes native speakers use double negation in everyday English, but it is not grammatically correct. Check out the examples:

✗ I won't never talk to him again. → ✓ I will never talk to him again.

✗ I don't see nobody. → ✓ I see nobody.

Review

Negation is the act of negating a sentence, using negative markers or negative structures. Here are the important negative categories.

Negative Markers

  • negative adverbs
  • negative pronouns
  • negative determiner

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