Negative Particle (Grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

negative particle
The particular use of the negative particle in the slogan "Make love, not war' is sometimes called contrastive negation. (Jens Schott Knudsen/Getty Images)

In English grammar, the negative particle is the word not (or its reduced form, -n't) used to indicate negation, denial, refusal, or prohibition. Also called a negative adverb.

The most usual way in which negative sentences are constructed in English is with the negative particle not or n't

Examples and Observations:

  •  "Vampire is not a career choice."
    "The class hamster isn't just sleeping."
    (Bart Simpson in The Simpsons)
  • "Agatha, I'm not young enough to know everything."
    (J.M. Barrie,The Admirable Crichton, 1902)
    "Liberty put her hands on her hips. I ain't young enough to put up with this, she thought."
    (April Reynolds, Knee-Deep in Wonder. Metropolitan Books, 2003)
  • "Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
    (Mahatma Gandhi)
    "'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store.'"
    (Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)
  • "Things are only impossible until they're not."
    (Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation)
  • "I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that don't work."
    (attributed to American inventor Thomas Edison)
  • "It's a simple question of weight ratios. A five-ounce bird could not carry a one-pound coconut."
    (Soldier addressing King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)
  • "She didn't blame herself, exactly, at least not anymore, for his death, but she didn't, couldn't, wouldn't duck out of what she was responsible for, either."
    (Dana Stabenow, The Singing of the Dead. Macmillan, 2001)
  • Positioning the Negative Particle (or Adverb)
    "The negative adverb not is often positioned between words in a verb phrase but is not a part of the verb phrase. It is an independent adverb whose function is to switch the meaning of the verb to its exact opposite: Brian will not tell me where we are going.
    I have not given my approval to the project.
    Clarisse was not the culprit. In the first example, the adverb not modifies the verb phrase 'will tell.' Because of not, Brian refuses to reveal their destination. In the second example, not modifies the verb phrase 'have given,' and its presence indicates that I have yet to offer any approval. In the final example, not modifies the verb 'was.' Clarisse's innocence hangs on the presence of the adverb."
    (Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Owl, 2004)
  • Alterations With Negative Particles
    "The normal form of negation in English is to add not (or its contracted form -n't) after the operator (that is, after the first auxiliary verb or the finite verb be):
    positive: I am feeling tired.
    negative: I am not feeling tired.
    positive: You could help her.
    negative: You couldn't help her.
    positive: The letter is here.
    negative: The letter isn't here.
    When the positive sentence has no operator, do is used as a dummy operator to form the negative:
    Sue likes jogging.
    Sue doesn't like jogging.
    The contracted negative forms are used in informal style, especially in speech. They are: isn't, aren't, wasn't, weren't, hasn't, haven't, hadn't, doesn't, don't, didn't, won't, shan't, can't, mustn't, wouldn't, shouldn't, couldn't, mightn't. For some operators there is no negative contraction (for example, may not, am not) and so the full form has to be used. In making a sentence or clause negative, we sometimes have to make other changes. For example, it is common to replace some by any when it follows not. The negative of We saw some rare birds is We didn't see any rare birds."
    (Geoffrey N. Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006)
  • Other Negative Elements
    "Clauses and sentences can also include negative items other than the negative particle, although they do not negate the truth of a clause or sentence in the way 'not' does. Here are some examples:
    He told me never to do it again. (adverb)
    It really is no use. (determiner)
    She said nothing about a trip to America. (pronoun)
    Nobody came to answer the door. (pronoun) The position of never in the first example is crucial to the meaning of the sentence. There is a contrast in meaning between He told me never to do it again and He never told me to do it again. This is because a negative element does not affect preceding phrases and clauses, but only those which follow it."
    (Kim Ballard, The Frameworks of English: Introducing Language Structures, 3rd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Negative Particle (Grammar)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Negative Particle (Grammar). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Negative Particle (Grammar)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).