Negation: Verbs & Clauses

Negation is the process that turns an affirmative statement into a negative one. In this lesson, we will learn about ways of creating negative sentences.

intermediate
"Negation of Verbs and Clauses" In the English Grammar

What Is Negation in Verbs and Clauses?

Negation is the grammatical process of expressing the opposite or negative of a statement. In verbs and clauses, negation is typically expressed by using negative words. One way to negate clauses or sentences is to simply negate the verbs.

Negation with 'Not'

The most common way to negate a statement is by adding 'not' or its contracted from n't after the verb.

I work in a factory. → I don't work in a factory.

I am Jim's brother. → I am not Jim's brother.

Be + Not

'Be' is one of the most common verbs in the English language, so let's start by learning how to negate it.

Be Be in Negative
am am not
is is not/isn't
are are not/aren't
was was not/wasn't
were were not/weren't

He is leaving. → He isn't leaving.

Sean was reading. → Sean wasn't reading.

Tip

As you can see in the table above, the verb 'be' cannot be negated using the contracted form in the first person singular form 'am'. So, never write amn't.

When using 'is' and 'are', there are two possible negative forms: 'isn't' and 'aren't' or ''s not' and ''re not'. The forms ''s not' and ''re not' are more commonly used after pronouns, while 'isn't' and 'aren't' are more commonly used after noun phrases.

Do + Not

The second most common auxiliary verb in English is 'do'. Let's see its different forms and how they can be negated.

Do Do in Negative
do do not/don't
does does not/doesn't
did did not/didn't

I know Mat. → I don't know Mat.

I watched a movie last night. → I didn't watch a movie last night.

Have + Not

'Have' is another common verb. Like the other two, it can be used both as a main verb and an auxiliary verb. We can negate it by adding 'not' after it.

Have Have in Negative
have have not/haven't
has has not/hasn't
had had not/hadn't

Amelia has gone. → Amelia hasn't gone.

I have phoned Mark. → I haven't phoned Mark.

Modals + Not

All modal verbs can be negated by adding 'not' (or n't) after them. However, there are some exceptions to be considered here. For example, you cannot use the contracted form of 'not' with the modal verbs 'may' and 'shall'. Additionally, to use the contracted form of 'will not', you should completely change the form of the verb to 'won't'. In the table below, you can see the list of modal verbs that regularly take 'not':

Modal Modal in negative
can cannot/can't
may/might may not/might not
shall shall not
will will not/won't
ought to ought not to/oughtn't to
should should not/shouldn't

You should have called me. → You shouldn't have called me.

I can swim. → I can't swim.

Tip

In the first example above, you can see that we have two auxiliary verbs: 'should' and 'have'. In such cases, 'not' is always added after the first verb. See another example:

I might have been mistaken. → I might not have been mistaken.

negating the verb using the auxiliary 'do' + 'not'

Negative Questions

We can also use not or n't to form negative questions:

  • When there is a modal verb or be, we use auxiliary/be + n't or auxiliary/be + subject + not to form negative questions;

Are you going to English class today? → Are you not going to English class today?

Have the guests arrived yet? → Haven't the guests arrived yet?

  • When there is no modal or be verb, we use the auxiliary verb 'do' + n't, or do + subject + not before the main verb

Did you watch a movie yesterday? → Didn't you watch a movie yesterday?

Does she know that the appointment is today? → Does she not know that the appointment is today?

Negative Imperatives

In order to make a negative order or command (imperative), we use the following structure:

do not/don't + the base form of the verb

Open the window. → Do not open the window. Or Don't open the window.

Take a picture. → Don't take a picture.

Do Not Negate a Verb Directly

Remember that you cannot negate the main verb directly. You must use an auxiliary. Take a look at this example:

I have a sister.

In order to negate it, you cannot say:

I haven't a sister.

or:

I not have a sister.

The only correct way to negate this sentence is to use an auxiliary verb:

I have a sister. → I don't have a sister.

Negative Non-finite Clauses

Non-finite clauses are clauses where the main verb is in the to-infinitive form, the -ing form, or the -ed form. The negative forms of non-finite clauses are formed by adding not before them. For example:

The best thing about vacations is not working!

She didn't say anything, not wanting to worry anyone.

Not To give up on a dead-end career was stupid.

Tip

When using to-infinitive clauses, we can also use 'not' after 'to'. However, it is not recommended. Many consider this 'split infinitive' to be grammatically unacceptable.

To not give up on a dead-end career was stupid.

Review

To negate a sentence we are forced to add 'not' to its auxiliary verb. If a sentence has only an auxiliary verb what you do is to add 'not' directly to the auxiliary. But if there is a main verb you are forced to use (do, does, did) as an auxiliary before the main verb to be allowed to add 'not' to auxiliary (do, does, did) and negate the whole sentence.

Here are some examples for negation

Jacob won't arrive before I leave.

Justin and Julian are not staying in the jungle. They say it is not safe.

Katherine has not ever been out of Chicago.

His mother didn't leave them when they were fragile.

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