Get 40% Off With The Epic Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 40% Off With The Epic Sale. Ends Soon!
FrenchPod101.com Blog
Learn French with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Negation in French: How to Say No and Deny Everything

Thumbnail

Have you ever paid attention to all those books about The Gentle Art of Saying No, The Power of a Positive No, How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, and many more? 

Based on these titles, it would seem that there’s something inherently difficult about saying no. In fact, it could even be considered rude, insensitive, or socially disruptive…

…unless you happen to be in France! Here, you can safely say no to most questions without the need to carefully sugarcoat it. 

Negation in French is rather similar to that in English, and once you’ve mastered the most basic structures, it shouldn’t give you any trouble.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to do negation in French. We’ll cover everything from the fundamentals to the more advanced rules, providing you with a list of the most useful negative words in French and examples of how to use them in sentences.

A Woman Holding Her Palms Out in Front of Her to Say No or Stop

Non, pas du tout. (“No, not at all.”)

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in French Table of Contents
  1. The Basics of Negation
  2. More Negative Words
  3. Important Negation Rules
  4. Negative Questions
  5. Negative Phrasebook
  6. Le mot de la fin

1. The Basics of Negation

There are four basic French negation words and phrase patterns you should become familiar with before moving forward. Here they are: 

A- Non (“No”)

Let’s kick off with something straightforward: Non is the French equivalent of “No,” and that’s pretty much all you need to know about it.

Tu aimes les films d’horreur ? (“Do you like horror movies?”)
Non. (“No.”)

The main difference between non and its English equivalent is that non is mainly used as a negative answer to a question.

For structures such as “I have no time,” we use: Ne… pas. (Je n’ai pas le temps.)

B- Ne… pas (“Don’t”)

There you have it: The bread and butter of negation in French. Ne… pas is a structure you’ll see and hear a lot as you learn French. 

The basic rule is to place ne and pas around the verb.

  • Je sais. (“I know.”)
    Je ne sais pas.
    (“I don’t know.”)

  • Je bois du vin. (“I drink this wine.”)
    Je ne bois pas de vin.
    (“I don’t drink this wine.”)

If you’ve ever used French verbs starting with a vowel sound, do you remember how the pronoun can adapt to make the sentence smoother?

Let’s take the verb aimer (“to love,” “to like”) with the pronoun je (“I”) for example:

Je + aime =
Je aime
J’aime (“I like”)

The same thing happens with Ne… pas, but this time, the Ne becomes N’:

  • J’aime la pluie. (“I like the rain.”)
    Je n’aime pas la pluie.
    (“I don’t like the rain.”)

  • J’écoute la radio. (“I listen to the radio.”)
    Je n’écoute pas la radio.
    (“I don’t listen to the radio.”)

C- Ne… plus (“Don’t… anymore”)

This structure is very similar to Ne… pas and shortens the pronoun in the same way.

  • Je sais. (“I know.”)
    Je ne sais plus. (“I don’t know anymore.” / “I don’t remember.”)

  • J’écoute la radio. (“I listen to the radio.”)
    Je n’écoute plus la radio. (“I don’t listen to the radio anymore.”)

D- Ne… que (“Only”)

Even though this is not a negative sentence per se, this structure uses Ne which might confuse you the first time you bump into it.

Ne… que follows the same structure as Ne… pas:

  • Je ne bois que du vin. (“I only drink wine.”)
  • Je n’invite que mes amis. (“I only invite my friends.”)

What we’re really saying is: 

  • “I don’t drink anything but wine.”
  • “I don’t invite anyone but my friends.”

Practice the basics of French negation with this free lesson on FrenchPod101.com.

A Woman Holding a Plate and Refusing a Sausage

Je ne mange pas de viande. (“I don’t eat meat.”)

2. More Negative Words

Of course, depending on how specific you want to be or the message you want to get across, there are a few more French words for negation you should have handy: 

A- Ni… ni (“Neither… nor”)

At first glance, Ni… ni is pretty easy to use.

  • Ni oui ni non (“Neither yes, nor no”)

Then, you can combine it with Ne or N’ to make a sentence. It forms kind of a double negation.

  • Je n’aime ni la pluie ni le soleil. (“I like neither the rain nor the sun.”)

You can add more ni if needed. In that case, you’d usually separate them with commas.

  • Je n’aime ni la pluie, ni le soleil, ni le brouillard. (“I like neither the rain, nor the sun, nor the fog.”)

Partitive articles (du, de la, des: “some”) and indefinite articles (un, une: “a”) are omitted when using Ni… ni.

  • J’ai un chat et un chien. (“I have a cat and a dog.”)
    Je n’ai ni chat ni chien. (“I have neither a cat nor a dog.”)

  • Je mange du pain et du fromage. (“I eat bread and cheese.”)
    Je ne mange ni pain ni fromage. (“I eat neither bread nor cheese.”)

B- Common Negative Words

Here are some more useful negative words and how to use them.

Jamais (“Never”)Je ne bois jamais de vin. (“I never drink wine.”)
Personne (“Nobody”)Personne n’écoute la radio. (“Nobody listens to the radio.”)
Je n’écoute personne. (“I don’t listen to anybody.”)
Rien (“Nothing”)Rien ne change. (“Nothing changes.”)
Je ne mange rien. (“I’m not eating anything.”)
Aucun(e) (“No,” “None”)Aucun problème. (“No problem.”) – With a masculine noun.
Tu n’as aucune preuve. (“You have no proof.”) – With a feminine noun.
Nulle part (“Nowhere”)Nulle part ailleurs. (“Nowhere else.”)
Je ne vais nulle part. (“I’m not going anywhere.”)

As you probably noticed, these words create lots of double negation, but this is perfectly fine in French.

  • Je ne mange rien. (Literally: “I don’t eat nothing.”)
  • Tu n’as aucune preuve. (Literally: “You don’t have no proof.”)

And of course, you can combine these negative words together for even more negation power!

  • Tu ne crois jamais personne. (“You never believe anyone.”)
  • Je ne fais jamais rien. (“I never do anything.”)
  • Il ne voit plus personne. (“He doesn’t see anybody anymore.”)
A Woman Scolding Her Coworker

Je n’aime ni le café ni les cravates ! (“I like neither coffee nor ties!”)

C- Old-fashioned Negation Words

Ne… point and Ne… guère are two literary words that you might find in classic books or academic writing, but never in a conversation (unless used in a quote, or humoristically).

In a sentence, they behave exactly like Ne… pas.

Point is the equivalent of “not at all.”

  • Je ne travaille point. (“I’m not working at all.”)

Guère is the equivalent of “not much,” “very rarely,” or “very few.”

  • Je ne travaille guère. (“I’m not working much.”)

Get more practice with these common negative words by learning to say what you will never do in French.

3. Important Negation Rules

Now that you know the basics and have a collection of negative words at your disposal, it’s time to go deeper and learn the most important French negation rules. 

A- Compound Tenses

Compound tenses, like the passé composé, combine two verbs: Auxiliary verb + Verb.

  • Elle a mangé. (“She has eaten.”) – Auxiliary avoir + manger
  • Elle est partie. (“She has left.”) – Auxiliary être + partir

You know that the basic rule is to place ne and pas around the verb, right? With compound tenses, we place them around the first verb: the auxiliary.

  • Elle n’a pas mangé. (“She has not eaten.”)
  • Elle n’est pas partie. (“She has not left.”)

Is it still confusing? Let’s see more examples:

Présent (Present)Passé composé (Present perfect)
Je mange. (“I eat.”)
Je ne mange pas.
(“I don’t eat.”)
J’ai mangé. (“I have eaten.”)
Je n’ai pas mangé. (“I haven’t eaten.”)
J’écoute la radio. (“I listen to the radio.”)
Je n’écoute pas la radio.
(“I don’t listen to the radio.”)
J’ai écouté la radio. (“I have listened to the radio.”)
Je n’ai pas écouté la radio. (“I haven’t listened to the radio.”)
Je ne mange rien. (“I don’t eat anything.”)Je n’ai rien mangé. (“I haven’t eaten anything.”)
Je ne bois jamais de vin. (“I never drink wine.”)Je n’ai jamais bu de vin. (“I’ve never drunk wine.”)
Elle ne mange ni pain ni fromage. (“She eats neither bread nor cheese.”)Elle n’a mangé ni pain ni fromage. (“She has eaten neither bread nor cheese.”)

B- Undefined Articles

Partitive articles (du, de la, des: “some”) and indefinite articles (un, une: “a”) are usually replaced with de in negative sentences.

  • Je bois de la bière. (“I drink beer.”)
    Je ne bois pas de bière. (“I don’t drink beer.”)

  • Nous avons des gâteaux. (“We have cakes.”)
    Nous n’avons pas de gâteaux. (“We don’t have cakes.”)

  • Elle a un chat. (“She has a cat.”)
    Elle n’a pas de chat. (“She doesn’t have a cat.”)

  • Elle porte une robe. (“She’s wearing a dress.”)
    Elle ne porte pas de robe. (“She’s not wearing a dress.”)

This rule doesn’t apply to Ne… que, as it’s not strictly a negative expression.

  • Je mange du fromage. (“I eat cheese.”)
    Je ne mange pas de fromage. (“I don’t eat cheese.”)
    Je ne mange que du fromage. (“I only eat cheese.”)

Someone Refusing a Mug of Beer

Je ne bois pas de bière. (“I don’t drink beer.”)

C- Negation of the Infinitive

In a negative sentence with an infinitive verb, Ne and pas are placed together before the verb.

  • Elle m’a dit de ne pas faire ça. (“She told me not to do that.”)
  • Merci de ne pas utiliser l’ascenseur. (“Thank you for not using the elevator.”)

D- Oral Shortcuts

In spoken French, it’s very common to skip the Ne entirely. Only the Pas remains to express the negation.

Unless you’re in a formal setting such as a job interview or a business meeting, you should drop it or it will sound either foreign or uptight.

  • Written: Je ne sais pas. (“I don’t know.”) [Formal]
    Spoken: Je sais pas. (“I don’t know.”) [Casual]

  • Written: Je n’aime pas la pluie. (“I don’t like the rain.”)
    Spoken: J’aime pas la pluie. (“I don’t like the rain.”)

4. Negative Questions

Conveniently, negative questions follow the same rules as declarative sentences. They use the same words, structure, order, and so on.

In French, there are two ways you can form a given question. With that in mind, the French negation structures for questions are as follows:

Normal / Casual:

  • Ils ont un chat ? or Est-ce qu’ils ont un chat ? (“Do they have a cat?”)
  • Ils n’ont pas de chat ? (“Don’t they have a cat?”)

Written / Formal: [with inversion of subject and verb]

  • Ont-ils un chat ? (“Do they have a cat?”)
  • N’ont-ils pas un chat ? (“Don’t they have a cat?”)

In the following table, I will focus on the casual style which is much more common. The inversion of subject and verb is barely ever used in spoken French, even in formal professional settings.

StatementQuestion
Vous écoutez la radio. (“You are listening to the radio.”)
Vous n’écoutez pas la radio.
(“You are not listening to the radio.”)
Vous écoutez la radio ? (“Are you listening to the radio?”)
Vous n’écoutez pas la radio ? (“Aren’t you listening to the radio?”)
Vous avez écouté la radio. (“You have listened to the radio.”)
Vous n’avez pas écouté la radio. (“You haven’t listened to the radio.”)
Vous avez écouté la radio ? (“Have you listened to the radio?”)
Vous n’avez pas écouté la radio ? (“Haven’t you listened to the radio?”)
Elle ne boit jamais de vin. (“She never drinks wine.”)Elle ne boit jamais de vin ? (“Does she never drink wine?”)
    → Do you need some French negation practice? Why not have a look at this intermediate lesson on negative phrases?
A Boy Listening to the Radio and Pretending to Drum

Il n’écoute pas la radio ? (“Doesn’t he listen to the radio?”)

5. Negative Phrasebook

Now that you’ve become quite knowledgeable about negation in French, let’s be more practical and look at the most common negative expressions you might want to remember.

  • De rien (“You’re welcome”)

    This is what you can answer when someone says Merci (“Thank you”).

    It uses the word rien (“nothing”), which we saw earlier. It literally means: “For nothing.”

  • Pas du tout (“Not at all”)

    You can use this expression as an answer to a question, or make sentences with it, such as:

    Je n’ai pas faim du tout. / Je n’ai pas du tout faim. (“I’m not hungry at all.”)
    Ce n’est pas du tout certain. (“This is not certain at all.”)

  • Pas encore (“Not yet”)

    Elle n’est pas encore partie. (“She hasn’t left yet.”)

  • Pas trop or Pas vraiment (“Not too,” “Not so,” “Not really”)

    Je n’ai pas trop faim. (“I’m not so hungry.”)
    Elle n’aime pas vraiment le fromage. (“She doesn’t really like cheese.”)

  • Ça ne fait rien. (“It doesn’t matter.”)

A bit more practice on the fundamentals of French negation? Stop by our free lesson to review the use of Ne… pas, indefinite articles, and more.

6. Le mot de la fin

In this guide, you’ve learned everything about negation in French, from basic negative expressions to more advanced rules and how to form negative questions. You’re also well-equipped now with a list of the most useful negative words in French.

Did I forget any important negative words that you know? Feel free to share it with your fellow students in the comments below!

FrenchPod101 also has tons of vocabulary lists with audio recordings and free resources to boost your studies and keep your French learning fresh and entertaining!

Remember that you can also use our Premium PLUS service, MyTeacher, to get personal 1-on-1 coaching with a private teacher. He or she will help you practice negation (and much more!) through assignments, personalized exercises, and recorded audio samples to help you improve your pronunciation. 

Happy learning on FrenchPod101.com!

About the Author: Born and bred in the rainy north of France, Cyril Danon has been bouncing off various jobs before he left everything behind to wander around the wonders of the World. Now, after quenching his wanderlust for the last few years, he’s eager to share his passion for languages.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in French