French Negative Adverbs: How to Form Them

They're compounds, most often with 'ne' and 'pas.' But alternatives abound.

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Making sentences negative in French is a bit different than in English, due to the two-part negative adverb and the sometimes difficult placement. Normally, ne...pas is the first negative adverb that we learn. But there are actually many negative adverbs constructed just like it, so once you understand ne... pas, you can make just about any sentence negative.

Using 'Ne'...'Pas'

To make a sentence or question negative, place ne in front of the conjugated verb and pas (or one of the other negative adverbs) after it.

Ne...pas translates roughly as "not."

   Je suis riche > Je ne suis pas riche.
   I'm rich > I'm not rich.

   Êtes-vous fatigué ? > N'êtes-vous pas fatigué ?
   Are you tired? > Aren't you tired?

In compound verbs and dual-verb constructions, the negative adverbs surround the conjugated verb (except for nulle part, which follows the main verb).

   Je n'ai pas étudié.
   I didn't study.

   Nous n'aurions pas su.
   We wouldn't have known.

   Il ne sera pas arrivé.
   He won't have arrived.

   Tu n'avais pas parlé ?
   You hadn't spoken?

   Il ne veut pas skier.
   He doesn't want to ski.

   Je ne peux pas y aller.
   I can't go there.

When there is an indefinite article or partitive article in a negative construction, the article changes to de, meaning "(not) any":

   J'ai une pomme > Je n'ai pas de pomme.
   I have an apple > I don't have any apples.

Using 'Ne' and an Alternative to 'Pas'

Ne...pas is the most common French negative adverb, but there are a number of others that follow the same rules of grammar.

ne...pas encorenot yet
Il n'est pas encore arrivé.He has not arrived yet.
  
ne...pas toujoursnot always
Je ne mange pas toujours ici.I don't always eat here.
Lesson: encore vs. toujours
  
ne...pas du toutnot at all
Je n'aime pas du tout les épinards.   I don't like spinach at all.
  
ne...pas non plusneither, not either
Je n'aime pas non plus les oignons.   I don't like onions either.
  
ne...aucunementnot at all, in no way
Il n'est aucunement à blâmer.He is in no way to blame.
  
ne...guèrehardly, barely, scarcely
Il n'y a guère de monde.There's hardly anyone there.
  
ne...jamaisnever
Nous ne voyageons jamais.We never travel.
  
ne...nullementnot at all
Il ne veut nullement venir.He doesn't want to come at all.
  
ne...nulle partnowhere
Je ne l'ai trouvé nulle part.I couldn't find it anywhere.
  
ne...pointnot (formal/literary equivalent of ne...pas)
Je ne te hais point.I don't hate you.
  
ne...plusno more, not anymore
Vous n'y travaillez plus.You don't work there anymore.
  
ne...queonly
Il n'y a que deux chiens.There are only two dogs.

Using 'Pas'  Without 'Ne'

The French negative adverb pas is often used together with ne, but pas can also be used all by itself for various reasons. 

Pas can be used without ne to negate an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun. But it can also be used to negate a verb, and this is explained in the lesson on informal negation. Note that this use of pas alone is somewhat informal. In most cases, you should be able to construct a sentence using ne...pas that means the same thing.


Pas + Adjective

   Il doit être ravi ! Pas ravi, mais content, oui.
   He must be delighted! Not delighted, but (yes, he is) happy.

   C'est un homme pas sympathique.
   He's not a nice man.

   Pas gentil, ça.
   That's not nice.

   Pas possible !
   That's not possible!

Pas + Adverb

   Tu en veux ? Oui, mais pas beaucoup.
   Do you want some? Yes, but not a lot.

   Ça va ? Pas mal.
   How are you? Not bad.

   Pourquoi pas ?
   Why not?

   Pas comme ça !
   Not like that!

   Pas si vite !
   Not so fast!

   Pas souvent, pas encore, pas trop
   Not often; not yet; not too much

Pas + Noun

   Elle vient mercredi ? Non, pas mercredi. Jeudi.
   Is she coming on Wednesday? No, not Wednesday. Thursday.

   Je veux deux bananes. Pas de bananes aujourd'hui.
   I want two bananas. No bananas today.

   Pas de problème !
   No problem!

Pas + Pronoun

   Qui veut nous aider ? Pas moi !
   Who wants to help us? Not me!

   Tu as faim ? Pas du tout !
   
Are you hungry?Not at all!

   Ah non, pas ça !
   Oh no, not that!

Pas + Verb

   Je ne sais pas. > Je sais pas. Or contractions that are even more colloquial such as: 

   J'sais pasSais pas, and even Chais pas.
   I don't know.

Pas can also be used to ask for confirmation:

   Tu viens, ou pas ?
   Are you coming or not?

  Je l'aime bien, pas toi ?
 
 I really like it, don't you?

   Pas vrai ?
   Right? or Isn't that true?

Note: Pas can also be a noun meaning "step," which is found in many French expressions.