Negative Pronouns

Pronoms négatifs

French negative pronouns, also called indefinite negative pronouns, replace and simultaneously negate nouns. Negative pronouns may be the subject or object of the verb they’re used with.

Par exemple…

Je ne connais personne ici.   I don’t know anyone here.
Rien n’est sur la table.   Nothing is on the table.

There are two different types of negative pronouns:

  1. Variable negative pronouns
  2. Invariable negative pronouns, explained here

Characteristics of invariable negative pronouns

  1. Replace a noun or indefinite pronoun
  2. Have two parts: ne plus another word
  3. May be a subject, direct object, or object of a preposition
  4. Do not require an antecedent

French invariable negative pronouns

Pronoun Translation Negation of …
ne… personne no one, not … anyone on, quelqu’un, tout le monde
ne… rien nothing, not … anything quelque chose, tout

When the negative pronoun is the subject, the main negative word goes first, followed by ne and then the verb.

Personne ne sait où aller.   No one knows where to go.
Rien ne s’est passé.   Nothing happened.

When the negative pronoun is the object of a preposition, ne precedes the verb and the main word follows the preposition.

Tu n’as parlé à personne.   You didn’t talk to anyone.
Il n’a peur de rien.   He’s not afraid of anything.

  When serving as a direct object, ne still precedes the verb, but the word order is somewhat different for the two pronouns.

In simple tenses, personne and rien follow the verb:

Je ne vois personne.   I don’t see anyone.
Je ne mange rien.   I’m not eating anything.

In compound tenses, personne follows the past participle, but rien follows the conjugated auxiliary verb:

Je n’ai vu personne.   I didn’t see anyone.
Je n’ai rien mangé.   I didn’t eat anything.

Similarly, in dual-verb constructions, personne follows the infinitive, while rien follows the conjugated semi-auxiliary verb:

Je ne peux voir personne.   I can’t see anyone.
Je ne vais rien manger.   I’m not going to eat anything.

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French negative pronouns
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