Negative Structures

How to Form Negative Sentences in a Variety of Ways

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There are a number of negatives structures in English that can be used to talk about something false or contradictory. These range from basic negative sentences with a single subject to more complicated sentences with two or more subjects. Learn the features and rules of the most common negative constructions in English.

Negative Structures in English

  • Negative verb conjugation: A negative verb is formed by adding "not" to a main verb, making the whole statement untrue.
  • Negative imperative: A negative imperative sentence is used to instruct or command someone not to do something. It is formed by placing "do not" before the main verb in a sentence.
  • "No" and "not + any" negative sentences: "No" and "any" are two words that can make a sentence negative. "Any" word sentences also have a "not" and have negative verbs while "no" word sentences have positive verbs.
  • Double negatives: Double negatives are incorrect structures in English that combine two "not" words in one sentence to make a positive statement.
  • "Never" negative sentences: These negative sentences go beyond saying that something is untrue. They make the statement that something is not ever true by using "never" and a positive verb together to convey negative meaning.
  • "Neither...nor" negative sentences: A "neither...nor" negative sentence expresses two separate but related negatives by linking two positive statements together with "neither" and "nor".

Negative Verb Conjugation

The most common negative construction in English is the negative conjugation of a verb using the word "not". Main verbs can be made negative by placing "not" directly after the auxiliary verb in a conjugation.

The sentence structure for a negative verb conjugation is: Subject + auxiliary verb + "not" + main verb + object[s].

The combination of "not" and an auxiliary verb is often contracted in English. For example: do not = don't, will not = won't, and has not = hasn't.

Here are some examples of negative verb conjugations.

  • She won't come to the party tomorrow.
  • Tom has not finished the report.
  • We aren't studying Russian this semester.

Negative Imperative

Imperative sentences are used to instruct or command others. Use "do not" (or "don't") before the main verb of a sentence to create a negative imperative—an instruction not to do something. No subject is required in the negative imperative form.

The negative imperative sentence structure is: "Do" + "not" + verb + object[s].

Here are some examples of negative imperative sentences.

  • Do not begin without me.
  • Don't waste any time.
  • Do not touch the glass.

"No" and "Not + Any" Negative Sentences

"No" negative sentences and "not + any" negative sentences are very similar. There are a number of "no" words (such as nowhere, nobody, nothing, and no one) and "any" words (such as anyone, anybody, anything, and anywhere) that can serve the same purpose in making a sentence negative.

"Any" words take negative verb structures and "no" words take positive structures. "Any" word sentences require a "not" as well, which precedes it. "No" and "not + any" can be used interchangeably.

The sentence structure of a "no" word negative sentence is: Subject + auxiliary verb + main verb + "no" word + object[s].

Here are some examples of "no" word negative sentences.

  • They have no pets.
    • To make this a "not + any" negative sentence: They do not have any pets.
  • I have nothing more to say.
  • The boys invited no one to their party.
  • Timothy has gone nowhere this summer.
  • She bought nobody a present.

The sentence structure of an "any" word negative sentence is: Subject + auxiliary verb + "not" + main verb + "any" word + object[s].

Here are some examples of "not + any" negative sentences.

  • Mary isn't going to eat any dinner.
  • Susan did not see anybody at work today.
  • Peter hasn't done anything for the past three days.
  • I'm not meeting anyone tomorrow.
    • To make this a "no" negative sentence: I'm meeting no one tomorrow.
  • Alex hasn't traveled anywhere outside of the United States.

Double Negatives

Double negatives are a common but incorrect negative structure in English. They are characterized by the use of two "no" words (such as not and nowhere) in one sentence. Most people that use double negatives are trying to make a "no" word negative sentence but mistakenly add "not" to it as well. Double negatives are incorrect because two negative words or phrases cancel each other out to contribute positive meaning to a phrase.

Here are some examples of double negatives.

  • He doesn't like nothing.
  • Angela has not visited no one this month.
  • They aren't traveling nowhere for the holidays.

Do not, under any circumstances, use double negatives. Instead, use either one "no" word on its own or one "any" word (with an accompanying "not") to form a negative sentence.

"Never" Sentences

"Never" describes something that does not happen at all and therefore must be used with a positive verb to convey negative meaning. Auxiliary verbs are not needed for negative sentences in the present simple or past simple tense—the "never" already indicates that something is not ever done (an auxiliary conjugation).

The sentence structure of a "never" negative sentence is: Subject + auxiliary verb + "never" + verb + object[s].

Here are some examples of "never" negative sentences.

  • She never takes time off work.
  • Mary has never returned my calls.
  • Peter never walked to school when he was young.

"Neither...Nor" Sentences

Use the phrase "neither ... nor" when expressing two negatives together. Unlike in double negatives, "neither...nor" sentences use no negatives to express negative meaning. Rather, they contain two positive alternatives made untrue by "neither" and "nor". The verb in one of these sentences applies to all objects because the speaker is making two related untrue statements that do not stand alone.

The sentence structure that "neither...nor" negative sentences most often follow is: Subject + auxiliary verb + "neither" + direct object + "nor" + direct object + infinitive verb + subject complement.

An optional dependent clause can also be inserted immediately after "nor".

"Neither...nor" sentences are not as difficult to construct as they seem. Here are some examples of "neither...nor" negative sentences.

  • I have neither the time nor have I had the desire to do my work.
  • She has neither the time nor the money to help her friends.
  • Alex has neither the means nor does he have the ability to find a new job.