• Cecilia Viana

Keep your sentences right; don't do this! (Part 2)

In this post, I’m going to ask you to put your detective hat on to help me discover problems in the negative sentences that follow. These are the most common problems that appear in negative sentences, and we need to find them and make them stop. Let’s do it!

Mistake 1

Look at these sentences. What’s wrong with them?

I no go to work today.

He no called me on Wednesday.

He not drive.

Did you find the problem? I hope you have said that the problem is… that there is no negative auxiliary! In English, we need a negative auxiliary to make negative sentences. There are exceptions, of course, but that is the general rule.

Solution: use an auxiliary

The auxiliary not only indicates that the sentence is negative, it also shows the tense of the sentence. Changing the auxiliary changes the tense. Look:

Past: I didn't go to work today. He didn't call me on Wednesday. He didn't drive.

Present: I don't go to work today. He doesn't call me on Wednesdays. He doesn't drive.

Future: He won't go to work today. He won't call me on Wednesday. He won't drive.

Mistake 2:

Now look at these sentences. What’s wrong with them?

He doesn’t drives.

He didn’t made me angry.

What is the problem here? The problem is... that the verb has been conjugated! After auxiliaries, for example do, does, did, will, etc., we need to use a bare infinitive: a clean verb, with no -s, no -ed, no -ing, nothing.

Solution: don’t conjugate the verb

He doesn’t drive.

He didn’t make me angry.

Mistake 3:

Now look at the following sentences. Can you see the problem?

I didn’t do nothing.

I never said nothing.

The problem is… that there are double negatives! This happens when there are two negative words in the same sentence, for example, didn’t and nothing, or never and nothing. This is common in some varieties of English, but in general, it isn’t considered ‘proper grammar’.

Solution: avoid double negatives

You can replace nothing with anything, and the meaning will remain the same:

I didn’t do anything.

I never said anything.

Remember that the main objective is to be able to communicate well, which involves having the language to express what you want to say, and making it easy for the other person to understand you without making an effort. The mistakes I have presented in this post are basic, so avoiding them will help you speak more clearly, and will help other people understand you more easily, without getting distracted (because mistakes can be distracting!). So, to recap, when making negative sentences:

  • Use an auxiliary

  • Don’t conjugate the verb

  • Avoid having a double negative

If you want to avoid making other basic mistakes in positive sentences watch this, this and this!

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