Negative sentences in French

Les phrases négatives

A negative sentence (une phrase négative) allows us to negate a statement, express disagreement, make contradictions or deny the occurrence of an event or action. The most common negative construction in French is ne + verb + pas, although there are also other phrases we can use.

Read on for everything you need to know about negation in French grammar, then test out your new knowledge in the free exercises.

How to make negative sentences in French

ne … pas

Most negative sentences in French are formed with the ne … pas construction. The conjugated verb comes between the two parts: ne + verb + pas

Subject ne Conjugated Verb pas Participle Direct Object Indirect Object
Elle ne montre pas le chemin à ses amis.She does not show her friends the way.
Elle n’ a pas montré le chemin à ses amis.She did not show her friends the way.

If the objects are replaced by object pronouns, the same rule applies as with declarative sentences:

  • the object pronouns come before the verb
  • word order depends on pronouns (see the diagram on the declarative sentences page)
    Example:
    Elle ne me l’a pas montré.She didn’t show it to me. – the way

To Note

Before vowels (a, e, i, o, u) or a silent h, ne becomes n’. This is known as elision.

Example:
Il n’a pas vu le ballon.He didn’t see the ball.
Nous n’entendons rien ici!We can’t hear anything here!
N’habitue pas les enfants au sucre!Don’t let the children get used to sugar!

Other ways to make negative sentences in French

in addition to ne … pas, there are other negative forms in French. They generally also have two parts:

  • ne … personne (no one, not anyone)
    Example:
    Je ne vois personne dans la rue.I don’t see anyone in the street.
  • ne … rien (nothing, not anything)
    Example:
    Il n’y a rien de plus beau.There’s nothing more beautiful.
  • ne … jamais (never, not ever)
    Example:
    Il n’y a jamais de fumée sans feu.There’s no smoke without fire.
    literally: There is never smoke without fire.
  • ne … plus (no longer, not anymore)
    Example:
    Léa n’habite plus à Strasbourg.Léa doesn’t live in Strasbourg anymore.
  • ne … aucun (not any, no)
    Example:
    Je ne connais aucun bon dentiste.I don’t know any good dentists.

To Note

When any is used in the negative sense (not any, no), it’s translated into French as either aucun or pas de (de = partitive article). As an adjective, aucun agrees with the noun it is modifying (aucun, aucune, aucuns, aucunes). Aucun makes the negation stronger.

Example:
Malheureusement, Pierre n’a pas d’amis.Unfortunately, Pierre doesn’t have any friends.
Malheureusement, Pierre n’a aucun ami.Unfortunately, Pierre doesn’t have a single friend.