English Grammar Guide

Negative Forms

Negatives with 'not', negative questions and other negative constructions.


The most common way to make a phrase negative is by using "not."  Generally, "not" follows an auxiliary verb ("to be", "to do") or a modal (shall, must, might, will, etc.) even if the verb adds no meaning to the sentence. When no modal is present or appropriate, we use the verb "to do".


  • Positive phrase:  I want to go home.   Negative phrase:  I do not want to go home.

  • Positive phrase:  He will pass his exams.   Negative phrase:  He will not pass his exams.

  • Positive phrase:  They should buy a new house.  Negative phrase: They should not buy a new house.

  • Positive phrase:  He is Chinese.   Negative phrase:  He is not Chinese.

Contraction of not
After an auxiliary or modal, "not" is frequently contracted, as shown below:

  • Is not   >  Isn't

  • Should not  >  Shouldn't

  • Does not  >  Doesn't

  • Must not   >  Mustn't

  • Has not   >  Hasn't

  • Will not   >   Won't

In an uncontracted form, 'not' emphasizes the negative meaning of the sentence:

  • "I will not speak to him"  is stronger than   "I won't speak to him."

  • "She will not do her homework" is stronger than 'She won't do her homework.'

Negative Questions

Negative questions are formed in the same way - by placing "not" after the auxiliary/modal:

  • Isn't he the man who bought your house?

  • Why didn't you do your homework?

  • Haven't you seen this film?

  • Didn't you enjoy the film?

Contracting 'not' in questions

Contracting not from 'Not' to 'n't' is optional.  However, if we do not contract 'not' it is placed after the subject in the question.
Compare the questions below with the previous examples..

  • Is he not the man who bought your house?

  • Why did you not do your homework?

  • Have you not seen this film?

  • Did you not enjoy the film?

Other Negative constructions

It is important to remember that the English language does not permit the use of double or triple negatives. Where double negatives are used (in error) they invert the meaning of the statement, so that the intended negative actually becomes positive. In addition to a simple 'not' there are other ways of constructing negative statements in English. When "not" is included, we can use the affirmative forms of adverbs:

No more / not... any more

  • We have no more time left. We have to go now.

  • We don't have any more time. We have to go now.

No one / not... anyone

  • No one was waiting for me at the airport.

  • There wasn't anyone waiting for me at the airport.

Never / not... ever

  • I never want to see him again.

  • I don't ever want to see him again.

Nothing / not... anything

  • He does nothing at all.

  • He doesn't do anything at all.

Nowhere / not... anywhere

  • Where are you going? -- Nowhere.

  • Where are you going? -- I'm not going anywhere.

Not a single / not... a single

  • There is not a single reason why I should promote him. He's too lazy.

  • There isn't a single reason why I should promote him. He's too lazy.

Neither... nor...

'Neither' indicates that the two ideas are linked together. 'Neither' is used with a positive verb and should not have other negative forms preceding it. Neither is generally paired with 'nor' but it is not incorrect to use it with 'or'. Neither can be used to refer to a singular or plural things. In effect, 'neither...nor' means 'not this and not that'.

  • Neither Richard nor Judy could come to the party.

  • Neither of them is coming.

  • Neither of them are Irish.

  • Neither of my two brothers survived the war. Neither Richard, nor James.

  • Which of these fur coats is yours? ~ Neither (of them). That one's mine.

When neither is used as a determiner, it is placed before the noun.

  • On neither side of the road was there anybody to be seen.

  • Neither team could score a goal. It was a very boring match.