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Negation

No is the opposite of yes. It is used as a negative response to a question. But there are other negative forms in English as well.

Simple negation occurs by placing not after the conjugated verb in a sentence. It is important to remember that it is the conjugated verb that determines the location of not and not the other verbal forms that may also be in a sentence.

  • He is not at home today.
  • We do not want to buy a car at this time.
  • Marianne has not responded to my letter.

If the sentence is in the form of a question, not stands behind the subject:

  • Can you not understand?
  • How could he not have helped us?
  • Will Martin not share his good fortune?

But in the case of a contraction with not, the two parts of the contraction are never separated. This is true whether the sentence is a statement or a question:

He isn’t at home today.Can’t you understand?
We don’t want to buy a car.Why couldn’t he help us?
She hasn’t answered yet.Won’t Martin share with us?

If the negated verb is not to beto have, or other auxiliary (canshouldmust, etc.), the negation is formed from the present or past tense of do, depending upon the tense of the verb:

I am notI do not speak
she has notshe doesn’t learn
you shouldn’tyou did not understand
he can’the didn’t worry

Certain other negative words have two forms. One form begins with no- (except for never and neither), and the other consists of not followed by another word. When these words are not negative, they have a special positive form that often uses the word some. Look at the varieties that exist:

Formed with no-Formed with notPositive Form
nonenot anysome
no onenot anyone (or anybody)someone (or somebody)
nothingnot anythingsomething
nowherenot anywheresomewhere
never*not everever
neither*not eithereither

Be aware of how the two forms are used differently:

I have none to give you.I do not have anything to give you.
He spoke to no one.He did not speak to anyone.
We want nothing from you.We do not want anything from you.
She’s nowhere to be found.She’s not anywhere to be found.
I’ll never forgive you.I will not ever forgive you.
He wants neither of them.He does not want either of them.

When the negative word is removed from the sentence, the positive form replaces it:

  • Hector didn’t dance with anyone. → Hector danced with someone.
  • The customer wants nothing. → The customer wants something.

Note: English never uses a double negative—for example, doesn’t want nothing.

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