Negation: Saying No

To negate is to say the opposite of something positive.

Consider the following two sentences:

In this picture, the baby is saying the negated form of what the man is saying. He (She?) is saying the opposite of what the man is saying:

I don't know how to drive a car.

And this is a shorter form of:

I do not know how to drive a car.

I think it's easy to understand that the word "not" gives us our negation. But where did that "do" come from?

. "do" is an "auxilliary" (helper) for English Negation

First, it's important to note that what is negated is a verb. Because verbs are action words, they are words that discribe what someone (or something) is doing. This might help you understand why "do" is used as an auxilliary for negation.


. "do" is only used sometimes, not every time.

There are 12 basic tenses and aspects in English.

For example, we can conjugate the verb "to sing" over these twelve tenses and aspects:

Tense/Aspect Positive Negated
Present SimpleI singI do not sing
(I don't sing)
PerfectI have sungI have not sung
(I haven't sung)
ProgressiveI am singingI am not singing
(I'm not singing)
Perfect ProgressiveI have been singingI have not been singing
(I haven't been singing)
Past SimpleI sangI did not sing
(I didn't sing)
PerfectI had sungI had not sung
(I hadn't sung)
ProgressiveI was singingI was not singing
(I wasn't singing)
Perfect ProgressiveI had been singingI had not been singing
(I hadn't been singing)
Future SimpleI will singI will not sing
(I won't sing)
PerfectI will have sungI will not have sung
(I won't have sung)
ProgressiveI will be singingI will not be singing
(I won't be singing)
Perfect ProgressiveI will have been singingI will not have been singing
(I won't have been singing)

Note there are two Tense/Aspects where the auxilliary "do" is required:

  1. The Simple Present, and
  2. the Simple Past.

And here's what makes those two Tense/Aspects special: They're both simple tense/aspects, and all the rest are compound tense/aspects.

Simple means one word (For example, sing ).
        (one word)  
Compound means more than
one word
(For example, will sing ).
        (two words)  

So, in the following picture, the man is using a simple tense/aspect of "to know" (the Simple Present; one word "know"), and the baby is using a compound tense aspect of "to know" (the Simple Future; two words "will know"):

. Building a Negation: Example ONE, Past Perfect

We will show you the step-by-step process that converts a statement using a Past Perfect form of "to know" into its negated form.

To see this slideshow, move your mouse over each of the numbers on the "filmstrip" to see the steps by which a sentence involving the Past Perfect of "to know" gets negated:

. Building a Negation: Example TWO, Simple Present

Now let's convert a statement using a Simple Present form of "to know" into its negated counterpart:

. Building a Negation: Example THREE, Simple Past

Negating the Simple Past is sort of like the Simple Present, except there's an interesting little surprise in the middle!

. Building a Negation: Example FOUR, 3rd-Person, Singular, Simple Present

There's another complex negation which has little to do with Tense or Aspect, and that's negating the 3rd-Person, Singular, Simple Present.

It is rather like negating the Simple Past. As with the Simple Past, negating the 3rd-Person, Singular, Simple Present also requires the transfer of information from the verb to the auxiliary ("does"), as you will also see in Step 3 of the following slide show: