'Not' is a common negative marker in English. In this lesson, we are going to learn all about it.

How to Use "Not" in English?

'Not' is a commonly used negative marker and pro-sentence in the English language. In this lesson, we will discuss how to learn and use it.

'Functions of 'Not'

'Not' as a Negative Marker


As stated above, 'not' is a negative marker that we use to negate words, verbs, possibilities, etc. Below, we will learn all about it:

'Not' to Negate Clauses

When 'not' is used as a negative marker, we can negate clauses with it. As you might know, we have two English clause types: finite and non-finite. Finite clauses consist of a verb and have a tense. However, non-finite clauses are ones that do not have a tense and are mainly subordinate. Let us see how they go along with a negative marker:

I do not like to run.

Here, we have a finite clause.

He does not want to join us.

Position in a Sentence

As it was clear in the example above, the sentence is complete and has a tense (present tense). When we want to negate it, we put 'not' between the auxiliary and the main verb. Look at the following examples for more clarification:

The children have not been here.

Here, the sentence is in the present perfect tense.

They are not going to school.

As you can see, the sentence is in the present continuous tense.


Now, when we are changing these sentences into questions, 'not' can have two positions. One is that it remains after the subject. The second is that it will come right after the modal verb or the auxiliary verb. Please note that when it is used after the modal verb, it is in the contracted form 'n't':

Can the baby not keep quiet?

As you can see, 'not' has kept its place after the subject.

Can't you see I have my hands full?

Here, we have the contracted form of 'not' right after the modal verb.

Now, let us learn about non-finite clauses:

Seeing the professor is a bad idea.

Here, we have a non-finite clause in the sentence.

He is thinking to take the opportunity.

Position in a Sentece

As it was clear above, the underlined parts are showing the non-finite clause. It has no tenses and no subjects. When we want to negate these clauses, we mainly add the marker before the verb. If we have another marker like 'to' in the clause, we must put 'not' before it. Look:

Not seeing my friend was a bad idea.

Here, 'not' has come before the verb and negated it.

They were thinking not to do it.

Katy is considering not to accept your request.


It might come in handy to know that we can put 'not' after 'to' only in spoken English. Look:

She is thinking to not eat that cake.

'Not' to Negate Other Words

Another function of 'not' as a negative marker is to come before words like nouns, adjectives, and adverbs and negate them. Look below:

Not all students know how to study well.

Here, we are negating a pronoun.

Position in a Sentence

When we want to negate words like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, we mainly put the negative marker before them. Look below:

Not everyone is going to the party.

Here, 'not' has been used before a pronoun.

He is living not far from here.

Here, we are negating an adjective.

'Not' as a Pro-sentence

When a simple word or expression is used to function as a complete sentence, it is called a pro-sentence. Another function of 'not' is to be a pro-sentence. Look at the following examples:

I don't know whether to take it or not. ( ... whether to take it or not take it.)

A : Do you wanna do this?

B : Not sure. ( I'm not sure I want to do this.)

Position in a Sentence

'Not' can be used in many different positions in a sentence. Study the following list:

  • When we want to respond negatively. Look:

A : Who's next?

B : Not me.

A : Is anyone coming with me?

B : Not her.

  • We can use it after verbs like 'hope', 'expect' and 'believe' to reply negatively. Look:

A : Do you think she wins?

B : Hope not. (I hope she does not win.)

A : Do you think she's gonna do that?

B : I believe not.

  • When we want to show a negative possibility, we can use 'not':

It all depends on whether you like it or not.

I'm still not sure if I'm ready to face the truth or not.

  • When we want to show that we will not allow something to happen, or we do not want something that is offered. Look:

A : Another tea, sir?

B : Not me, thanks.

A : Can I call you in the afternoon?

B : Definitely not.

  • When we want to emphasize the opposite of a sentence, we use 'not':

Well, that sounds like an exciting day_not!


We mainly reduce 'not' to 'n't' only when we are adding it to verbs. Look:

The boy didn't come back.

Here, we can also say (the boy did not...).

Idioms and Expressions with 'Not'

We have some idioms with 'not' in English. We will learn all about them below:

  • Not at all: When we want to politely express our 'thanks' to someone or agree with them:

A : Thanks so much, Annie.

B : Not at all, honey.

  • Not only, but also: This one is used when we want to add an idea that is also true. Look:

Not only did the students talk behind my back, but they also left me.

Not only is she going to win the contest, but she is also going to be this year's champion.

  • Not that: We use this one when we want to not suggest something:

Martha hasn't come back, not that she said she would.


Please note that whenever we have 'not only', we must always change the places of the subject and the verb.


Loading recaptcha
  • linkedin
  • linkedin
  • facebook
  • facebook
  • email

You might also like


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
The word 'past' has many functions in the English language which may cause confusion. In this lesson, we will solve any uncertainty about this word.


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
'Up' has many functions in English including indicating location. In this lesson, we will discover all about this lesson.


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
In this lesson, we will discuss the word 'down' and discover this word in-depth since it functions in many different structures.


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
You have used and heard 'No' many times. 'No' has many functions including being used as a determiner, an exclamation, an adverb, and a noun.


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
Do you know the difference between 'My mom made a cake' and 'You have to make that decision.'? Well, we are gonna learn all about it in this lesson.


In order to add to your bookmarks you must sign in to your account
You have probably heard 'Take' many times in English. In this lesson, we are going to learn all about it.
Download LanGeek app