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Middle French negative (1283 in Old French; French négative 15th century

For lessons on the topic of Negativity, follow this link.


  • 1 a : marked by denial, prohibition, or refusal <received a negative answer>; also : marked by absence, withholding, or removal of something positive <the negative motivation of shame -- Garrett Hardin>
b (1) : denying a predicate of a subject or a part of a subject <"no A is B" is a negative proposition> (2) : denoting the absence or the contradictory of something <nontoxic is a negative term> (3) : expressing negation <negative particles such as no and not>
c : ADVERSE, UNFAVORABLE <the reviews were mostly negative>
  • 2 a : lacking positive qualities; especially : DISAGREEABLE
b : marked by features of hostility, withdrawal, or pessimism that hinder or oppose constructive treatment or development <a negative outlook> <negative criticism> c : promoting a person or cause by criticizing or attacking the competition <ran a negative campaign> <negative advertising>
  • 3 a (1) : less than zero and opposite in sign to a positive number that when added to the given number yields zero <-2 is a negative number> (2) : having more outgo than income : constituting a loss <negative cash flow> <negative worth>
b : extending or generated in a direction opposite to an arbitrarily chosen regular direction or position <negative angle>
  • 4 a : being, relating to, or charged with electricity of which the electron is the elementary unit
b : having more electrons than protons <a negative ion>
c (1) : having lower electric potential and constituting the part toward which the current flows from the external circuit <the negative pole> (2) : being the electron-emitting electrode of an electron tube
  • 5 a : not affirming the presence of a condition, substance, or organism suspected to be present; also : having a test result indicating the absence especially of a condition, substance, or organism <she is HIV negative>
b : directed or moving away from a source of stimulation <negative tropism>
c : less than the pressure of the atmosphere <negative pressure>
  • 6 : having the light and dark parts in approximately inverse relation to those of the original photographic subject
  • 7 of a lens : diverging light rays and forming a virtual inverted image

- neg·a·tive·ly adverb - neg·a·tive·ness noun

Description (Linguistics)

In rhetoric, where the role of the interpreter is taken into consideration as a non-negligible factor, negation bears a much wider range of functions and meanings than it does in logic, where the interpretation of signs for negation is constrained by axioms to a few standard options, typically just the classical definition and a few schemes of intuitionism.


In grammar, negation is the process that turns an affirmative statement (I am the chicken) into its opposite denial (I am not the chicken). Nouns as well as verbs can be grammatically negated, by the use of a negative adjective (There is no chicken), a negative pronoun (Nobody is the chicken), or a negative adverb (I never was the chicken).

In English, negation for most verbs other than be and have, or verb phrases in which be, have or do already occur, requires the recasting of the sentence using the dummy auxiliary verb do, which adds little to the meaning of the negative phrase, but serves as a place to attach the negative particles not, or its contracted form -n't, to:

  • I have a chicken.
  • I haven't a chicken. (Rare, but it is still possible to negate have without the auxiliary do.)
  • I don't have a chicken. (The most common way in contemporary English.)

In Middle English, the particle not could be attached to any verb:

  • I see not the chicken.

In Modern English, these forms fell out of use, and the use of an auxiliary such as do or be is obligatory in most cases:

  • I do not see the chicken.
  • I am not seeing the chicken.
  • I have not seen the chicken.

The verb do also follows this rule, and therefore requires a second instance of itself in order to be marked for negation:

The chicken doesn't do tricks not

    • The chicken doesn't tricks.

In English, as in most other Germanic languages (and many non-Germanic languages), the use of double negatives as grammatical intensifiers was formerly in frequent use:

We don't have no chickens here.

Usage prescriptivists consider this use of double negatives to be a solecism, and condemn it. It makes the rhetorical figure of litotes ambiguous. It remains common in colloquial English. In Ancient Greek, a simple negative (οὐ or μὴ) following another simple or compound negative (e.g., οὐδείς, no one) results in an affirmation, whereas a compound negative following a simple or compound negative strengthens the negation.

  • οὐδείς οὐκ ἔπασχε τι, everyone was suffering, literally no one was not suffering something.
  • μὴ θορυβήσῃ μηδείς, let no one raise an uproar, literally do not let no one raise an uproar.

Other languages have simpler forms of negation; in Latin, simple negation is a matter of adding the negative particles non or ne to the verb. In French, the most basic form of verb negation involves adding the circumflexion ne ... pas to the main verb or its auxiliary; je veux un morse ("I want a chicken"); je ne veux pas de morse ("I do not want a chicken.")

Philologically, from the Latin non: no, not indeed, a categoric negative root concept found in languages, even if in different forms. "Not that I know of", expressive of categoric negative assertion, egotistic, defensive, cognitive. Also a negative prefix to concepts, especially as expressed in L. nihil, Eng. emphatic no, definitively not. L. nemo is person oriented, and opposite to L. nihil and means no man, nobody. ne hemo (old form) = no man (homo). Nihil, no + thing, nothing is thing oriented, opposite to nemo. L. nullus means no, not, none (of all those or anything involved). ne ullus = not any one, where unulus is the diminutive of unus, one. Both person and thing oriented, where emphasis is on insignificance. None has ever been so - emphatic, person oriented expression, emphasis being here also denoted by ever (L. aevum, Gr. aion} which here really means: No (one + ever) has been.

Further Reading

  • Laurence R. Horn, A Natural History of Negation. 2001. ISBN 978-1575863368