In English grammar, negation is a grammatical construction that contradicts (or negates) all or part of the meaning of a sentence. Also known as a negative construction or standard negation.
In standard English, negative clauses and sentences commonly include the negative particle not or the contracted negative n't. Other negative words include no, none, nothing, nobody, nowhere, and never.
In many cases, a negative word can be formed by adding the prefix -un to the positive form of a word (as in unhappy and undecided).
Other negative affixes (called negators) include a-, de-, dis-, in-, -less, and mis-.
- I am not from Germany
- I do not like playing tennis.
- She does not listen to classical music.
- I have not read this book yet.
- I did not go to Moscow.
- I had not had dinner when they came in.
- You should not sleep late.
- I cannot help you.
- I will not participate in that competition.
Negation: two negatives
Standard English does not have two negatives in the same clause (double negatives). Words such as never, nobody, no one, none, nothing, nowhere, etc. already have a negative meaning, so we don’t need another negative with the verb:
There was no one in the office so I left a message.
There wasn’t no one…
Nobody likes to think they are worthless.
Nobody doesn’t like to think…
If we use not with the verb, we use words such as ever, anybody, anyone, anything, anywhere, instead of never, nobody, no one, nothing, nowhere:
I haven’t seen Ken anywhere today. In fact I don’t think anyone’s seen him for the last couple of days.
I haven’t seen Ken nowhere… or I don’t think no one’s seen him…
You may hear some speakers using two negatives in the same clause, but many people consider this to be incorrect.
Negative clauses with any, anybody, anyone, anything, anywhere
We don’t use not with some, someone, somebody, something, somewhere in statements. We use any, anyone, anybody, anything, anywhere:
There aren’t any seats left. You’ll have to stand.
There aren’t some seats left.
Tell them I don’t want to see anyone.
Tell them I don’t want to see someone.
After verbs with a negative meaning like decline or refuse, we use anything rather than something:
They refused to tell us anything about it. (preferred to They refused to tell us something about it.)
Negative prefixes and suffixes
We use these prefixes most commonly in negation: de-, dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir-, mis-, non-, un-:
What he said was very impolite.
There was a misunderstanding about who should sign the contract.
The refugees also need non-food items such as tents and blankets. (items which are not food)
-less is the most common suffix for negation:
Too many people are homeless in this city.
We just have endless meetings at work – they’re so boring.
Negative adverbs: hardly, seldom, etc.
Some adverbs (e.g. hardly, little, never, only, scarcely and seldom) have a negative meaning. When we use these at the beginning of the clause, we invert the subject and verb:
Hardly had we left the hotel when it started to pour with rain.
Hardly we had left the hotel…
Little did we know that we would never meet again.
Only in spring do we see these lovely little flowers.
We also invert the subject and verb after not + a prepositional phrase or not + a clause in front position:
Not for a moment did I think I would be offered the job, so I was amazed when I got it.
Not till I got home did I realise my wallet was missing.
When we want to emphasise something negative, we often use at all. We normally use at allimmediately after the word or phrase we are emphasising:
There’s nothing at all left in the fridge.
I’d rather not be here at all.
We had no rain at all this summer and now we have floods!
Not at all can come before an adjective:
She was not at all happy with the result.
Negation of think, believe, suppose, hope
When we use verbs like think, believe, suppose (mental process verbs) to express uncertainty about something, we usually use not with the mental process verb rather than with the verb in the following clause:
I don’t think I’m going to pass my exams. (preferred to I think I’m not going to pass my exams.)
However, we don’t normally use a negative with hope and wish:
I hope I’m not going to fail.
I don’t hope I’m going to fail.
I wish I hadn’t sent that email to Joan.
I don’t wish I had sent…