Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 52): les adverbes négatifs


Making sentences negative in French is a bit different than in English, due to the two-part negative adverb and the sometimes difficult issue of placement. Normally, ne…pas is the first negative adverb that is learned but there are actually many negative adverbs used just like it.

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 talked?

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

Je ne peux pas y aller. I can’t go.

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

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

In informal spoken French, ne is often dropped, for example:

Je ne sais pas. > Je sais pas.
I don’t know.

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

ne…pas encore – not yet
Il n’est pas encore arrivé. He has not arrived yet.

ne…pas toujours – not always
Je ne mange pas toujours ici. I don’t always eat here.

ne…pas du tout – not at all
Je n’aime pas du tout les épinards. I don’t like spinach at all.

ne…aucunement – not at all, no way
Il n’est aucunement à blâmer. He is in no way to blame.

ne…guère – hardly, barely, scarcely
Il n’y a guère de monde. There’s hardly anyone there.

ne…jamais – never
Nous ne voyageons jamais. We never travel.

ne…nullement – not at all
Il ne veut nullement venir. He doesn’t want to come at all.

ne…nulle part – nowhere
Je ne l’ai trouvé nulle part. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

ne…point – not (formal/literally equivalent of ne…pas)
Je ne te hais point. I don’t hate you.

ne…plus – no more, not anymore
Vous n’ya travaillez plus. You don’t work there anymore.

ne…que – only
Il n’y a que deux chiens. There are only two dogs.

The French negative adverb pas is often used in conjunction with ne, but pas can also be used all on its own. The use of pas without ne here is to negate an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun. Note that this use of pas is somewhat informal – in most cases, it is possible to make a sentence using ne…pas that means the same thing.

Pas + Adjective

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

C’est un homme pas sympathique. He is an unkind man.

Pas gentil, ça. That’s not nice.

Pas possible! That’s not possible!

Pas + Adverb

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

– Ça va? How are you?
– Pas mal. 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? Is she coming on Wednesday?
– Non, pas mercredi. Jeudi. No, not Wednesday. Thursday.

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

Pas de problème! No problem!

Pas + Pronoun

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

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

Ah non, pas ça! Oh no, not that!

Pas can also be used to ask for confirmation, for example:

Tu viens, ou pas? Are coming, or not?
Je l’aime bien, pas toi? I really like it, don’t you?

Pas vrai? Right Isn’t that true?

Pas is also a noun meaning “step,” and is found in many French expressions.


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