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.

Negation of Verbs and Clauses In the English Grammar

What Is Negation?

Negation is a grammatical notion that refers to the process of turning an affirmative statement into a negative one. Negation can happen in a number of structures.

Negation with NOT

The most common way to negate a statements is by using 'not' or n’t after verbs.

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

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

Tip

n’t is the contracted form of not. There is no space between the verb and n’t.

Be + Not

'Be' is one of the most common verbs in the English language, so it seems logical that we 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

Tip

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

He is leaving. → He isn't leaving.

Sean was reading. → Sean wasn't reading.

With is and are there are two possible negative statements, ’s not or isn’t and ’re not or aren’t. The forms ’s not and ’re not are more common after pronouns; isn’t and aren’t are more common after noun phrases:

Do + Not

The second most common auxiliary verb in the English language is 'do'. Let's see its different forms and how they can form a negation.

Do Do in Negative
Do Do not/Don't
Does Does not/Doesn't
Did Did not/Didin'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 putting '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 phones Mark. → I haven't phoned Mark.

Modals + Not

All modal verbs can be negated by adding not (or n't after them). However, there is some exceptions to this rule. For example, you cannot use the contracted form of not with the modal verb 'may' and 'shall'. In the table below, you can see the list of those modal verbs that do not regularly take 'not'.

Modal Modal in negative
Can Cannot/Can't
May May not
Shall Shall not
Will Will not/Won't
Ought to Ought not to/Oughtn't to

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

I can swim. → I can't swim.

Tip

Do you see in the first example that we have two auxiliary verbs: one is should and the other is have. Note that when this happens, always put 'not' after the first verb. See another example:

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

Negative Questions

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

  • 1. When there is a modal verb or be, we use not or n't to form negative questions;

Are you going to English class today? → Aren't you going to English class today?

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

  • 2. When there is no modal verb or be, we use auxiliary verb do + n't.

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

Does she know that the appointment is today? → Doesn't she know that the appointment is today?

Negative Imperatives

In order to make a negative order or command, use this 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.

Important Rule: Don't 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 is using 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 made by putting not before them.

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

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

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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