How do you teach the negative form to your students? The negative form of English verbs is usually presented tense by tense in most textbooks. At some point, however, it might be useful for your students to see the negative form for different tenses at the same time so they can truly grasp the similarities and differences in patterns and sentence positions.
Before you present the three common negative verb patterns in class, try eliciting them from your students by asking the following question:
How would you make these sentences negative?
- I am happy today.
- She was on time.
- You like coffee.
- He wanted some breakfast.
- They have been to Europe.
- We will be going overseas this year.
Go over the negative sentence patterns for the Be verb (pattern A below) and other verbs (pattern B) in the simple present and simple past. If your students are ready for more complex verb tenses (simple future, present perfect, etc.), introduce the pattern for verbs with two or more parts (pattern C).
Can your students think of more examples for each pattern?
A. be + not
- I am not happy today.
- She was not on time.
B. do + not + verb
- You do not like coffee.
- He did not want any breakfast.
C. aux* + not + verb (+ verb)
- They have not been to Europe.
- We will not be going overseas this year.
*aux = an auxiliary verb (e.g., be, have) or modal (e.g., will, should)
Did your students notice the placement of not in each of the patterns above? Ask if anyone can explain the position of the adverb in each case. If no one can explain it easily, or to reiterate, tell them the following:
- For the simple present and past tenses, not follows the Be verb.
- For other verbs, start with the auxiliary do (present) or did (past), followed by not and the base verb.
- For tenses or modals with two or more parts to the verb phrase, the adverb not almost always goes in the second position following the auxiliary (be, have, or a modal) and preceding the rest of the verb form (present participle, past participle, or base form).
After teaching the basic patterns and positions for negative sentences in English, go into more detail with the following examples. The examples in the charts below include different subjects (pronouns and nouns) and various tenses and modals.
A. Negatives with Be: Simple Present & Simple Past
We often contract not in informal spoken and written English, so it's very important to teach negative verb contractions. Try having your students guess at the contracted forms for each sentence in the chart.
Do your students realize that there are two ways (for most subjects) to form contractions in negative simple present sentences with the Be verb? Both forms are very common and equally acceptable. Negative simple past contractions only have two forms (wasn't and weren't), depending on the subject.
Simple Present Contractions with Be
- I'm not tired today.
- You're not in this class. / You aren't in this class.
- He's not at school. / He isn't at school.
- She's not lazy. / She isn't lazy.
- It's not a nice day. / It isn't a nice day.
- We're not his students. / We aren't his students.
- They're not cold. / They aren't cold.
- Her brother's not hungry. / Her brother isn't hungry.
- My sisters aren't here.
Simple Past Contractions with Be
- I wasn't tired yesterday.
- You weren't in this class.
- He wasn't at school.
- She wasn't lazy.
- It wasn't a nice day.
- We weren't his students.
- They weren't cold.
- Her brother wasn't hungry.
- My sisters weren't there.
B. Negatives with Other Verbs: Simple Present & Simple Past
Contractions with verbs other than the Be verb are pretty simple. Tell your students that negative simple present sentences take don't or doesn't, depending on the subject. Negative simple past contractions all take didn't, which makes things easier on our learners!
Can your students tell you the contracted forms for all the sentences in the chart above?
Simple Present Contractions with Do
- I don't have a dog.
- You don't like vegetables.
- He doesn't own a car.
- She doesn't enjoy shopping.
- It doesn't matter.
- We don't want to move to another country.
- They don't need any help.
- Our teacher doesn't give us any homework.
- My friends don't go out on school nights.
Simple Past Contractions with Did
- I didn't have a dog when I was a child.
- You didn't like vegetables when you were young.
- He didn't own a car last month.
- She didn't enjoy shopping last year, but she does now.
- It didn't matter.
- We didn't want to move to another country.
- They didn't need any help.
- Our teacher didn't give us any homework yesterday.
- My friends didn't go out last night.
C. Negatives with Other Tenses & Modals
What about contractions for tenses other than the simple present and simple past? The contraction takes place between the auxiliary verb or modal (e.g., be, have, will, should, must, would, can, could) and the adverb not.
Ask your students to tell you the contracted forms of the examples in the previous chart. Examples 7 and 8 provide good teaching points—in North American English, mustn't is possible but not very common and mightn't is impossible.
Contractions with Other Tenses & Modals
- I'm not going to the party.
- You won't pass this test unless you study.
- He hasn't given me an answer yet.
- She shouldn't apply for a job until she graduates.
- It wasn't working like it was supposed to.
- We haven't been living in this city for very long.
- They mustn't arrive late.
- (No contracted form. It is incorrect to say mightn't.)
- Those cookies weren't eaten by our children.
There are other ways to express negativity in English besides using the adverb not. Never is an adverb of frequency that means “not ever.” The patterns and positions for never are similar to not with one important difference: The auxiliary verb do is not needed with never.
Try to elicit this difference before or after presenting the following examples to your students.
- I am never late.
- You never call me.
- He never completed the assignment.
- She will never eat meat.
- It would never snow in summer in my hometown.
- We have never been to Australia.
- They must never enter this room without permission.
E. Negative Questions
What about using "not" in questions? Negative questions are possible, but they aren't commonly used. Tell your students that they might hear or use negative questions to show surprise or to get confirmation.
Are you not feeling well today?
(e.g., ask this if your friend is quieter than usual)
Do you not like pizza?
(e.g., ask this if your friend isn’t eating pizza when everyone else is)
Have you not seen this movie?
(e.g., ask this if your friend isn’t joining in a discussion about a popular film)
Your students will undoubtedly ask you about the correct way to answer negative questions. This can be a bit tricky! When using "not" in a question, a "no" answer shows agreement with the question and a "yes" answer shows disagreement. Give your students the following examples.
|Question:||Are you not feeling well today?|
|Answer (agree):||No, I'm not. I woke up with a headache.|
|Answer (disagree):||I'm feeling fine. Why do you ask?|
|Question:||Do you not like pizza?|
|Answer (agree):||No, I don't, actually.|
|Answer (disagree):||I love pizza! I'm just too full to eat any.|
|Question:||Have you not seen this film?|
|Answer (agree):||No, I haven't seen it yet.|
|Answer (disagree):||Yeah, I've seen it. I just didn't think it was very good.|
For examples of negative forms in tag questions, see this lesson.