Double Negatives

Négation double
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Négation double

In English, two negatives are said to make a positive: that is, they cancel one another out, and this is grammatically unacceptable. In French, however, négation double is alive and well. Two negatives sometimes make a positive, while other times they combine to make the negation stronger or more specific.

That said, while double negation is very common in French, it’s not a free-for-all; there are some grammatical rules that have to be followed.

Ne … pas +

The negative adverb ne … pas is the most common way to negate a statement. It can be used with two other negatives, rien and que, and for these, it actually negates the negative to make a positive.

ne … pas rien

When pas is replaced by rien, it means "nothing," but when you keep pas and add rien, it means "not nothing."

Par exemple…

Je n’achète pas.   I’m not buying.
Je n’achète rien.   I’m buying nothing.
Je n’achète pas rien.   "I’m not buying nothing." –> I’m buying something.

ne … pas que

Likewise, pas can be replaced by que to mean "only," but if you keep pas and add que, it means "not only."

Je n’ai pas trois livres.   I don’t have three books.
Je n’ai que trois livres.   I have only three books.
Je n’ai pas que trois livres.   I don’t have only three books. (I have seven.)

 Ne … pas cannot negate aucun, jamais, or personne; those adverbs take the place of pas and can’t be modified by it.

Il n’a aucune idée.   He has no idea.
Tu n’es jamais à l’heure.   You’re never on time.
Il n’y personne dans le parc.   There’s no one in the park.

Ne … jamais +

The negative adverb ne … jamais, "never," can be combined with aucun, personne, plus, que, and rien.

Il n’a jamais aucune idée.   He never has any idea.
Je ne vois jamais personne.   I never see anyone.
Elle n’a jamais plus menti.   She never lied again.
Tu n’as jamais qu’une seule idée.   You never have only one idea.
Je ne mange jamais rien après 22h.   I never eat anything after 10pm.

Ne … plus +

The negative adverb ne … plus, "no more, not any more," can be used with aucun, jamais, personne, que, and rien.

Il ne veut plus aucun tuyau.   He doesn’t want any more tips, no longer wants any tips.
Tu ne vas plus jamais être seul.   You’re never going to be lonely again.
Il n’y a plus personne dans le resto.   There’s no one in the restaurant any more.
Il ne reste plus qu’un problème   There’s only one problem left.
Je n’ai plus rien à te dire.   I have nothing more to say to you.

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French double negatives
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