15 French Negation Rules

What are the main French negation rules?

The most common French negation rule is to wrap ne…pas around the verb. For example, Je ne parle pas français (I don’t speak French). French has many more negation expressions including ne…jamais (never), ne…rien (nothing) and ne…personne (nobody). This lesson covers all the negation rules with example sentences.

Negation in the present tense

In the present tense, negation is formed by wrapping ne…pas around the verb. You can think of this as the ‘ne…pas’ sandwich where the ne and pas are the bread and the verb is what comes in between. When you are speaking you can think of the ne…pas as a little speedbump causing negation.

  • Je ne mange pas. I don’t eat.
  • Il ne dort pas. He doesn’t sleep.
  • Nous ne travaillons pas. We don’t work.

Many French verbs start with a vowel. For these verbs, ne becomes n’. For example, ‘Je ne aime pas’ (I don’t like) sounds awkward whereas ‘Je n’aime pas’ sounds much smoother to the ear. The same goes for avoir (to have). Je ne ai pas (I don’t have) sound rough whereas ‘Je n’ai pas’ sounds pleasant.

  • Je n’aime pas le fromage. I don’t like cheese.
  • Elle n’habite pas en France. She doesn’t live in France.

Negation in the passé compose

In the passé composé (French past tense) wrap ne…pas around the auxiliary (helping) verb. For example, to say ‘I didn’t eat’, say ‘Je n‘ai pas mangé’.

Note, a common mistake is to put the pas after the past participle and say, ‘Je n’ai mangé pas’. This wrong. It is tempting to make this mistake because the pas comes after the verb in the present tense: ‘Je ne mange pas’. Once again, the rule is to wrap ne…pas around the auxiliary verb.

On this page you will find a complete lesson covering a comprehensive guide of the French passé composé for beginners.

  • Je n’ai pas parlé. I did not speak.
  • Ils n’ont pas voyagé. They did not travel.
  • Il n’est pas venu. He did not come.

Negation rules for reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs can be called ‘to myself verbs’. In the ‘je’ form, these are verbs which have a ‘me’ in between the je and verb, such as ‘Je m’appelle’, which means my name is.

For reflexive verbs in the present tense, wrap ne…pas around the verb and the reflexive pronoun. For example, I get in up in affirmative is: ‘Je me lève’. The ‘me’ is the reflexive pronoun and it means ‘to myself’. Hence, to negate, the ne…pas goes around the ‘me’: Je ne me lève pas.

This page covers reflexive verbs in detail.

  • Il ne se rase pas. He isn’t shaving.
  • Elle ne se maquille pas. She isn’t putting on make-up.

For reflexive verbs in the passé composé, wrap ne…pas around the reflexive pronoun and the auxiliary verb. In the affirmative, ‘Je me suis levé’ means I got up. For the passé composé, ne…pas goes around the auxiliary verb (suis) and past participle (levé). Hence, ‘Je ne me suis pas levé’ is ‘I didn’t get up.

  • Il ne s’est pas blessé. He did not get injured.
  • Elle ne s’est pas levée. She did not get up.
  • Ils ne se sont pas promenés. They did not take a walk.

Special negation expressions

French has several other types of negation where other words than ‘pas’ make the negation. These can be referred to as negative adverbs and the most common examples are: ne…jamais (never), ne…rien (nothing, anything) and ne…personne (nobody, anybody) replace the word pas.

During my online lessons, I refer to these negations as ‘special negations’.

Ne + verb + jamais = never

The word ‘jamais’ means never. For these sentences, jamais replaces the word pas. For example, ‘Je mange les frites’ means I eat French fries. Je ne mange jamais les frites’ means I never eat French fries.

Make sure you don’t say ‘pas jamais’ because this would be a double negation. For example, if you said, ‘Je ne mange pas jamais les frites’, it would be wrong. You cannot have both pas and jamais in your sentence.

  • Elle ne voyage jamais. She never travels.
  • Il n’écoute jamais. He never listens.
  • Nous ne nageons jamais. We never swim.

For the passé composé wrap ne…jamais around the auxiliary verb.

  • Je n’ai jamais mangé le fois gras. I’ve never eaten fois gras.

Ne + verb + rien = nothing or anything

The word ‘rien’ translates to both nothing and anything. The same rules that apply to jamais above apply to rien. For example, ‘Je ne mange rien’ translates to both ‘I am eating nothing’ and ‘I am not eating anything’.

Again, ‘Je ne mange pas rien’ would be a double negation. Either say, ‘Je ne mange pas’ (I am not eating) or ‘Je ne mange rien’ (I’m not eating anything).

  • Je ne bois rien. I’m not drinking anything.
  • Nous ne comprenons rien. We don’t understand anything.

For the passé composé, wrap ne…rien around the auxiliary verb. For example, ‘Je n’ai pas fait’ means ‘I did not do’, while ‘Je n’ai rien fait’ means I didn’t do anything.

  • Je n’ai rien compris. I don’t understand anything.

Ne + personne = nobody or anybody

The word personne translates to both nobody and anybody. The same rules that apply to jamais and personne above also apply to personne. For example, ‘Je ne connais pas’ means ‘I don’t know’ while ‘Je ne connais personne’ translates to I don’t know anybody.

Speed up your learning with an app

Many of our students have greatly enhanced their learning by using an app. On these pages we've examined the top-30 apps for learning French. On this pages we've written comprehensive reviews for Pimsleur (great for people struggling with pronunciation), Rosetta Stone and FrenchPod101 (both great for visual learners).

  • Je ne vois personne. I don’t see anybody.
  • Il n’y a personne dans la salle. There’s nobody in the room.

For the passé composé, put personne after the past participle. This is unlike jamais and rien. If you look at the sentences above, jamais and rien come before the past participle.

  • Je n’ai vu personne. I didn’t see anybody.

Using personne and rien as the subject of the sentence

Both personne (nobody) and rien (nothing) can both be the subjects of a sentences. In this sentences the word pas is not included. For example, ‘Personne ne parle français’ means ‘Nobody speaks French’.

  • Personne ne vient ce soir. Nobody is coming tonight.
  • Rien ne marche ici. Nothing works here.
  • Rien ne m’interesse. Nothing interests me.

Ne + verb + pas encore = haven’t yet, still haven’t

When you want to express something that you haven’t done yet use ne + verb + pas encore. Essentially, you are doing a basic ne…pas negation but adding in the word encore, which translates here to ‘still’.

This negation applies to the passé composé. For example, ‘Je n’ai pas encore parlé’ means ‘I still haven’t spoken’.

  • Je n‘ai pas encore compris cette leçon. I still haven’t understood this lesson.
  • Je n‘ai pas encore eu le vaccin. I still haven’t had the vaccination.
  • Je n‘ai pas encore essayé ce parfum de glace. I still haven’t tried this ice cream flavor.

To ask a ‘Have you ever’ question, use the following constructions:

  • Est-ce que tu as déjà + past participle?
  • Est-ce que tu as jamais + past participle?

Examples:

  • Est-ce que tu as déjà fait du ski? Have you ever skied?
  • Est-ce que tu as jamais fait une pizza? Have you ever made a pizza?

To answer these questions use the ne + verb + pas encore format:

  • Je n‘ai pas encore fait du ski. I still haven’t skied.
  • Je n‘ai pas encore fait une pizza. I still haven’t made a pizza.

More expressions for negation

Negation in French is not cut an dry, meaning there are many other negation rules than simply ne…pas. Here is a complete list of these rules with example sentences.

ne + verb + nulle part = nowhere or anywhere.

The word nulle part translates to both nowhere and anywhere. It is considered a special negation as it replaces the word pas. ‘Nous n’allons nulle part’ translates to both ‘We’re not going anywhere’ and ‘We’re going nowhere’.

  • Elle ne va nulle part. She’s not going anywhere.
  • Le bus ne va nulle part. The bus is going nowhere.

ne + verb + que = only

The format, ne + verb + que means ‘only. The word que precedes the noun that is being ‘onlied’ or limited. For example, ‘Je ne comprends que deux ou trois mots’ translates to ‘I only understand a few words’.

  • Il ne boit que de l’eau. He only drinks water.
  • Je ne travaille que le matin. I only work in the morning.
  • Je n’écoute que la musique classique. I only listen to classical music.

ne + qu’à faire = just + verb

Je construction ne + qu’à faire means ‘just + verb’, like the Nike commercial: ‘Tu n’as qu’a le faire!’ translates to ‘Just do it!’.

  • Tu n‘as qu’à le manger. Just eat it!
  • Vous n’avez qu’à l’essayer! Just try it!

Rien + qu’à + infinitive = by just doing something

  • Rien qu’à assister au spectacle, on peut voir plein de gens. By just attending the show you can see lots of people.

Ne + verb + aucun(e) = no or any

The word aucun/aucune translates to any. For these sentences, the word aucun must agree in gender with the noun it’s modifying. For example, ‘Je n’ai aucun ami en France’ translates to both ‘I don’t have any friend in France’ and ‘I have no friend in France.

The word idée (idea) is feminine. Hence, ‘Je n’ai aucune idée’ translates to ‘I have no idea’.

  • Je n’ai aucun problème. I have no problem.
  • Je n’ai aucune objection. I have no object.
  • Je n’ai aucun doute. I have no doubt.

Aucun(e) + noun or aucun(e) de + plural noun can be the subject of a sentence to translate to no or none none of.

  • Aucun de mes amis habite en France. None of my friends live in France.
  • Aucune de mes amies me comprennent. None of my friends understand me.

Ne + guère = much or hardly

The word guère translates to both much and hardly. Hence, ‘Je comprends guère’ translates to ‘I hardly understand’.

  • Elle ne sort guère. She hardly ever goes out.
  • Il ne mange guère. He doesn’t eat much.

Ni…ni = neither…nor

Ni…ni translates to to neither…nor, while ni l’une ni l’autre translates to neither of them.

  • Je n’aime ni les escargots ni les épinards. I like neither snails nor spinach.
  • Je ne veux ni fromage ni yaourt. I don’t want cheese or yogurt.
  • Elles ne sont arrivées ni l’une ni l’autre. Neither of them arrived.

Ne + past conditional + past participle of devoir + infinitive = shouldn’t have

To express regret for something you shouldn’t have done use the past. conditional of devoir plus the infinitive.

  • Je n‘aurais pas dû acheter ce livre. I shouldn’t have bought this book.
  • Je n‘aurais pas manger ce poisson. I shouldn’t have eaten this fish.
Related lessons:
More resources:

If you've found this post useful you might want to considering looking at our post covering the best apps for learning French. We've looked a total 33 apps and have written comprehensive reviews of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and FrenchPod101.

Sign Up For A FREE Trial French Lesson On Skype And Get Instant Access To My French Pronunciation Crash Course.

Get the French Pronunciation Crash Course!