The concept of negatives in French isn’t much different from expressing negative concepts in English. The major difference in French is that certain negative phrases come in TWO parts that (usually) get placed on either side of the verb they’re referring to.

How to Use Ne…Pas

The most common negative construction is ne…pas, which essentially forms a “sandwich” around the verb and means the verb does NOT happen. For example:

I do want the book → I do NOT want the book

Je veux le livreJe NE veux PAS le livre

Where to place ne…pas

Sometimes the order of ne…pas gets changed around a little in different sentence types.

In the imperative tense…

The negation goes together at the beginning of the sentence, not around the verb.

Écrire dans ton livreNE PAS écrire dans ton livre

In compound verb tenses

In compound (two-part) verb tenses, the negation goes around the first (conjugated) verb, not the past participle or infinitive verb.

In passé composé: J’ai fait mes devoirsJe N’ai PAS fait mes devoirs (NOT J’ai ne fait pas…)

In futur proche: Je vais faire mes devoirsJe NE vais PAS faire mes devoirs (NOT Je vais ne faire pas…)

Ne Pas in Infinitives

To convey the message that you are not doing a verb described in its infinitive form, use ne pas + [INFINITIVE].

“I am learning not to lie” → J’apprends à ne pas mentir

“I am trying not to cheat” → Je tente de ne pas tricher.

Using Ne…Pas De

When you are negating a sentence that has either an indefinite article (un/une) or a partitive article (du/de la/des), the original article gets dropped and is replaced by de, no matter if the noun it’s referring to is feminine or masculine, singular or plural. The pas de basically translates to “not any”.

J’ai mangé une ceriseJe n’ai pas mangé de cerise (“I did not eat ANY cherries”)

J’aime les chansons américainsJe n’aime pas de chansons américains (“I do not like ANY American songs”)

Other French Negative Forms

There are several other French negative forms that follow the same construction as in ne…pas, but replacing pas with one of the negatives below.

Negative Adverbs

Ne….personne No one
Ne…rien Nothing
Ne…jamais Never
Ne…que Only
Ne…ni Neither…nor
Ne…nullement Not at all
Ne…guère Hardly, barely
Ne…plus Not anymore

Negative Adjectives

Just like any other adjective in French, negative adjectives take the gender of the noun they’re modifiying.

Ne…nul(le) part Nowhere, anywhere
Ne…aucun(e) (Not) Any
Ne…pas un(e) seul(e) Not a single one

For example, notice the difference between referring to UNE montre versus UN portable:

Je n’ai trouvé aucune montre versus Je n’ai trouvé aucun portable

Negatives as Pronouns

The negative constructions can be used as the subject, direct object, or indirect object of a sentence. The following negative phrases from above can also be used as pronouns:

Ne…nul(le) part Nowhere, anywhere
Ne…aucun(e) (Not) Any
Ne…pas un(e) seul(e) Not a single one
Ne….personne No one
Ne…rien Nothing
Word Order as Subjects

When the negative pronoun is the subject of the sentence, both parts of the negative construction go together at the beginning of the sentence. For example:

Personne n‘est venu (“No one came”)

Rien n‘a été arrivé (“Nothing happened”)

Word Order in Compound Sentences

In most two-part verb phrases, the ne goes first, followed by both parts of the compound verb tense, followed by the second part of the negative form. For example:

Je ne veux aller nulle part (“I do not want to go anywhere”)

Je n‘ai dit personne (“I told no one”)

Je ne vais trouver aucun (“I am not going to find any”)

With rien, the second part of the negative goes right after the first part of the verb construction (the conjugated verb), creating a “sandwich”, just like the ne…pas word order discussed above. For example:

Je n‘ai rien dit (“I did not say anything”)

And that covers most of the major concepts in French negation!

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4 Responses to Negation in French: Using Ne…Pas and Other Negatives

  1. david davenport says:

    some help with a double negative, ie. il ne restait donc plus que jean, i think it means only john was left

    • Thanks for asking – yes, I would say that conveys the meaning of the sentence well. “Il ne reste [or restait] donc plus que…” is a fairly common idiomatic saying in French. It can be translated in multiple ways in English, including describing that only one issue (or question, or object, or person) is left to address. A more literal translation for your sentence might be, “Therefore, there remained nothing more than John.”

      I wouldn’t think of this as a double negative – instead, I would suggest just memorizing the phrase and what it means, since a direct translation doesn’t really exist in English.

  2. E says:

    Bonjour! J’ai une question de negative en français! Je veUx savoir (pardon je dois parler en anglais maitenant!) how to use the negative in a sentence with an infinitive. Pour example, how do i say… I try to Not forget… Merci!

    • Hi E, thank you for your excellent question! I will add this concept to the post, but to answer your question, “not” + infinitive in English (so, “not to forget” in your example), is ne pas + infinitive in French.

      I try not to forget => J’essaie de ne pas oublier.

      Very simple, but it can look a little weird the first time you see it. Hope that made sense!

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