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Negation in English: The Art of Saying No


Your friend is offering you cake, but you’re on a strict diet. There’s some creepy guy at the bar trying to ask you out, and you’re a little scared. Your new coworker wants to know about your likes and dislikes, but you don’t know what to say…

The world is full of situations that require us to say “no,” turn down offers, or negate a response altogether. 

In this article, I’ll show you how to properly use negation in English. Learning how to make negative sentences in English will empower you to stick to your goals, keep yourself safe, and express yourself effectively! 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in English Table of Contents
  1. How to Negate a Positive Statement
  2. How to Give a Negative Response to a Question
  3. Telling Someone Not To Do Something
  4. Other Words and Phrases for English Negation
  5. Double Negatives
  6. Final Thoughts

1. How to Negate a Positive Statement

If you read my article on English Word Order, you know that a typical English sentence follows the SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) pattern:

  • I love wine.
  • Wendy has a dog.
  • They arrived together.

There are many ways you can negate a statement, but this is the most common pattern for sentence negation:

[Subject] + [Auxiliary Verb] + [Negative Word] + [Verb] + [Object or Complement]

For example:

  • I (S) do not love (V) wine (O).
  • Wendy (S) does not have (V) a dog (O).
  • They (S) did not arrive (V) together (C).

A Woman Snuggling a Kitten

Wendy does not have a dog…she has a cat!

There are two things you may have noticed: 

1) The auxiliary verb for each sentence is different:

This is because there are different conjugations of the auxiliary verb “to do” depending on the person, number, and tense. You may find it helpful to memorize this table:

IDoDidWill do
You (singular)DoDidWill do
He / She / ItDoesDidWill do
WeDoDidWill do
You (plural)DoDidWill do
TheyDoDidWill do

As you can see, the conjugations are very consistent, and only the third person present tense differs. 

    → To learn more about the conjugation of English verbs, you can read my article all about English Verb Conjugation

2) The main verb in the last two sentences changed from the original statement:

This has to do with the fact that the auxiliary verb indicates the tense, and the tense may require a different form of the verb to ensure subject-verb agreement. 

2. How to Give a Negative Response to a Question

What if someone asks you a question and you want to respond in the negative? 

1) Giving a General Negative Answer

The basic pattern for giving a negative response to a question is:

[Negative Word]* + [Negative Phrase] + [Complement or Reason]

*The negative word at the beginning of your response is usually optional. You can also respond with only the first negative word, though this is sometimes seen as rude.

Here are some questions and their most appropriate negative answers.

  • Do I love wine? / No, I do not love wine.
  • Does Wendy have a dog? / No, Wendy does not have a dog.
  • Did they arrive together? / No, they did not arrive together.

Note that after the first negative word, the rest of the sentence is exactly the same as when you simply give a negative statement. Sometimes this sentence pattern is used to add clarification. For example, perhaps the person who posed the question could not hear your response clearly. They may ask again to clarify.

  • Speaker A: Oh, you do love wine?
  • Speaker B: No, I do not love wine.

2) Turning Someone Down or Refusing an Offer

A Man Scratching His Head in Uncertainty

No, I’m sorry. I have to…

What if someone asks you if you would like to go out with them on a date or offers you something you don’t want? There are three patterns you can use to turn someone down or refuse an offer:

[Negative Word] + [Thank You]

[Negative Word] + [I’m Sorry]

[Negative Word] + [Thank You / I’m Sorry] + [Reason or Complement]

It can be as simple as saying: “No, thank you” or “No, I’m sorry,” but most people will appreciate it if you give them a reason for your answer. Of course, you don’t have to give a reason; the other person should respect your decision anyway. But it is considered polite to have a reason or excuse for why you’re saying no. 

Here are a few examples of negation in this context:

  • “Would you like to go out?” / “No, I’m sorry.”
  • “Would you like some cake?” / “No, thank you. I’m on a diet.”
  • “Can you watch my kids this Saturday?” / “No, I’m sorry. I have plans that day.”
  • “Could you come into work early tomorrow?” / “No, I’m sorry. I have to drop my kids off at school.”

Want more? We have a vocabulary list of Ways to Reject an Invitation. Check it out!

3. Telling Someone Not To Do Something

A Man Holding Out His Hand to Say Stop

Stop bothering me.

Has someone made you uncomfortable or upset you with something they’re doing (or thinking about doing)? There are a few ways you can ask or tell someone not to do something. In some cases, we will use the imperative/command verb form. In other cases, we will form gerunds. Here are a few common patterns:

Do not ___.

This one is the most basic way to ask someone not to do something.

Please, do not ___.

This one is a little bit more polite, and also denotes a greater sense of desperation (like you really want them not to do that thing). 

Stop ___.

This one is most commonly used when the person saying it is frustrated or upset about something. 

For example:

  • Do not walk on the grass.
  • Do not mess with me.
  • Please, do not do anything stupid.
  • Please, do not move things around in the kitchen.
  • Stop bothering me.
  • Stop ignoring everything I say.

You can learn more about forming commands in our beginner lesson.

4. Other Words and Phrases for English Negation

A Woman Crossing Her Arms and Thinking

What’s the best word for my negative sentence?

While “no” and “not” are the most common negative words in English, there are actually several others you can use depending on the situation, as well as set phrases.

BarelyHe barely eats anything. (He eats very little.)
HardlyShe hardly spends time with me. (She doesn’t spend much time with me.)
NeverEva never smokes or drinks.
No moreThere are no more carrots in the fridge.
No longerVicky no longer enjoys going out.
Not anymoreA: Are you still stressed about the exam?
B: Not anymore. I studied a lot this week.
Not reallyA: Do you like pineapple?
B: Not really. The flavor is too strong.
Not recentlyA: Are you still practicing the piano?
B: Not recently. I’ve been very busy.
Not at allA: I’m sorry, have I disturbed you?
B: Not at all. Come in.
NobodyNobody was prepared for what happened.
NowhereHe looked for the missing cat all day. It’s nowhere.
NothingShe has done nothing wrong.
NoneNone of us enjoyed the party.
Neither… Nor…I like neither beets nor radishes.
I doubt it.A: Will Jim show up on time for the meeting?
B: I doubt it. He’s always late.

5. Double Negatives

Many languages use double negatives, and English is one of them…sort of

There are certain situations and contexts where using a double negative makes sense. However, there are also cases where double negatives are considered improper grammar. Let’s break it down.

1) When Can You Use Double Negatives?

In English, double negation is appropriate when you’re:

  • Answering a question in the negative.
    • No, Wendy does not have a dog. ✅
    • No, I have not seen him lately. ✅
    • No, the restaurant does not have a bathroom. ✅
  • Making a “negative prefix” word more or less meaningful. 
    • It’s not uncommon for it to rain in the summer. ✅
    • I don’t dislike him, but I do find him annoying. ✅
    • He doesn’t disapprove, he’s just worried about you. ✅

You can find more information about negative prefixes in our lesson!

2) When Can’t You Use Double Negatives?

A Bald Man Shouting in Anger

Bob doesn’t have any patience…

You can’t use double negatives when you’re:

  • Trying to make a sentence more negative.
    • I don’t have nothing.
    • She isn’t going nowhere.
    • Bob doesn’t have no patience.

When you use double negatives like this in English, the second negative word cancels out the first one, making it a positive statement (in theory). For example, these sentences would really mean:

  • I have something.
  • She is going somewhere.
  • Bob has patience.

Instead, these sentences should be:

  • I don’t have anything. ✅
  • She isn’t going anywhere. ✅
  • Bob doesn’t have any patience. ✅

There are situations where you’ll hear people use improper double negatives, as this is simply a feature of spoken English in some areas. It tends to make the speaker sound uneducated, though, so it’s best to avoid them!

If you want to learn more about when to use an “any” word versus a “no” word (anything vs. nothing, etc.), we recommend our lesson Are You a Slave to American Coffee? It contains useful information on when to use one or the other so you can avoid these double negative mistakes.

6. Final Thoughts

Now you have a better idea of how to make negative sentences in English, give negative responses to questions, properly use double negatives, and more. 

Do you feel more confident in your ability to use negation in English, or do you still have some questions or concerns? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll do our best to help!

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to visit often and take advantage of our numerous free resources and vocabulary lists. To get the most out of your learning experience, we recommend creating a free lifetime account to gain access to tons of video and audio lessons for learners at every level. 

We hope to see you around!

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