Negating French verbs using "ne... pas"

In English we can turn a positive phrase into a negative one with the use of our word not.

He is here / He is not here.

The "not" itself is important, but it doesn't work alone. The sentence is made negative because the verb is made negative. In our example above the verb happens to be "is".

He is / He is not

Put the "not" anywhere else in the sentence and it won't make much sense. (Unless you're a fan of ridiculous irony... "He is here.... NOT!")

Understanding this makes it easier to understand how to form negatives in French. In order to turn a sentence negative, we need to make our verb negative. And to make a verb negative in French we simply wrap the verb in two little words: ne.... pas.

I know: Je sais.
I don't know: Je ne sais pas.
They come today. Ils viennent aujourd'hui.
They don't come today. Ils ne viennent pas aujourd'hui.
He wants to dance: Il veut danser.
He doesn't want to dance: Il ne veut pas danser.

Note that when the verb begins with a vowel, ne contracts into n' and it's added to the verb. For example:

You like cats: Tu aimes les chats.
You don't like cats: Tu n'aimes pas les chats.


Need a (good) online French course? — View my top recommendation »