Making sentences negative in French is a bit more complicated than in English. This summary of the different kinds of negation and negation-related grammatical structures should help clear up some of the confusion.
Grammarians insist that two negatives make a positive. While this may be true in English, in French two negatives make a stronger negative. Double negation is very common in French, particularly informal French. However, there are some rules and regulations when using double negatives in French.
There are three negative structures particular to formal French. While they are not unheard of in spoken French, they are most commonly found in writing, especially literature.
Informal Negation - Pas without Ne
If you've ever watched French movies or television, or chatted with native speakers, you have almost certainly heard pas (or another negative adverb) without ne, as this is a typical characteristic of informal and familiar French. Although it is nearly always written, ne is often dropped in spoken French.
Jamais - Ever and Never in French
In English there's no risk of confusion between "ever" and "never," which have opposing though not quite opposite meanings. In French, however, both terms can be translated by jamais, depending on what's in the rest of the sentence.
French Negative Adjectives (Ne... aucun, nul, pas un)
French negative adjectives, sometimes called indefinite negative adjectives, are made up of two parts which surround the verb: ne aucun, ne nul, ne pas un.
Negative Adverbs (Ne... pas, plus, jamais...)
Making sentences negative in French is a bit different than in English, due to the two-part negative adverb and the sometimes difficult issue of placement. Normally, ne...pas is the first negative adverb that we learn. But there are actually many negative adverbs used just like it, so once you understand ne...pas, you can make just about any sentence negative.
Negative Pronouns (Ne... personne, rien...)
French negative pronouns, sometimes called indefinite negative pronouns, are used to negate, refuse, or cast doubt on the existence of the noun that they replace.
Ne pas - Negating Infinitives
Why is ne pas sometimes used without a verb in the middle? Because it's followed by an infinitive.
Ne explétif (Ne... )
The ne explétif is used after certain verbs and conjunctions. It has no negative value in and of itself and is used in situations where the main clause has a negative meaning.
Ne littéraire (Ne cesser, n'oser, ne pouvoir, ne savoir)
In literary or other formal writing, certain verbs don't need pas.
Designate an unspecified person, thing, or characteristic.
Saying no is pretty simple, but there are quite a few synonyms and precisions to be aware of. Check out this lesson to learn how to say no, not a chance, I don't think so, and more.
Only / Not Only - Ne... que, Seulement, and their negatives
There are two common French equivalents for the restrictive only in English: ne... que and seulement. These two terms mean essentially the same thing, but their negative forms are a bit more complicated.
Pas ~ French Negative Adverb
The French negative adverb pas is often used in conjunction with ne, but pas can also be used all on its own. The main difference is that ne... pas is used to negate a verb, while pas without ne is used to negate an adjective, adverb, noun, or some other non-verbal construction. Pas can also be used to confirm a statement.
Even though the French infinitive translates as "to + verb," the French sometimes needs to be preceded by a preposition. This is the case with the passive infinitive, which is commonly used with indefinite and negative words.
Sans means "without" and can be used to translate "un___" and "___less."