Negative Sentence
Comparison of Negative Sentence
in English and Vietnamese
University of education
Supervisor: Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ
Name: Nguyễn Lê Ngọc Hà
Class: 5BT.05
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Negative Sentence
Any language in the world also serves the demand of
communication of human beings. However, each language has its origin,
characteristics and values. As an example, English and Vietnamese are
two different languages in many aspects. Among these aspects, we all
know that grammatical feature is the basic matter and the most important
one that we should pay attention to during learning English as a second
language. In my opinion, in learning English grammar, negation causes
many troubles to learners in distinguishing it with negation in Vietnamese
as well as using it in true way because of differences between two
languages. However, in some cases, there are also similarities between
them. Because of importance of using negation in real life, I would like to
research about rules of forming and using negative sentences in English
and Vietnamese so that readers have a general look about negative
sentences of English as well as of Vietnamese. I hope that knowledge of
negative sentence will help me in teaching English in the future.
In my topic, I will present the definition of negative sentence and
some basic kinds of negative sentence in English. Then, through
presenting all characteristics of forming and using English negative
sentence into details, I will give comparison with Vietnamese negative
sentence and some examples to illustrate the theory that I mentioned.
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Finally, I will express my ideas of using English negation in teaching as the
most important aim in my research.
Definition of negative sentence
Until now, in many research papers, linguists have various views of
definition of negative sentence. One of them thinks that negative sentence
is one in which negative adverbs (không, chẳng, chớ, đừng, chưa…) are
placed after verbs or adjectives to reflect the negation. Another linguist
states that there are six kinds of negative sentences, which include
negative sentences are formed by single negative words (không, chưa,
chẳng, chả,…) and formed by negative phrases ( không phải là, chưa phải
là, không đời nào, không bao giờ, chẳng đời nào…). Actually, there is not
the accurate and exact definition of negative sentence but we all can
understand that a negative sentence (or statement) states that something
is not true or incorrect.
Formation and use of negative sentences in English and Vietnamese
According the linguist, Lê Quang Thiêm, there are many ways of
classifying negative sentence. Among of them, by basing on the methods
and means of constructing a negation, negative sentence in English can
be classified into four types:
1. Auxiliary negation
2. Noun phrase negation
3. Adverb negation
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4. Morphological negation
We will gradually analyze them with examples and make a
comparison with negation in Vietnamese to clarify differences as well as
similarities of negative sentence between two languages.
Firstly, with auxiliary negation, English and Vietnamese have the
same rule of forming a negation in sentence. In English, in order to form a
negative sentence, “not” is placed after an auxiliary verb or “be” in the
positive one.
In the following table of an article, the author gave a review of
negation in English sentence with some examples. Among examples,
some use the contracted forms more used in informal writing and speech,
and some others use the full forms.
Negative element +
contracted forms
do+not = don’t
I do not play.
does+not = doesn’t
She doesn’t play.
did+not = didn’t
I didn’t play.
Present Simple
Past Simple
am + not = am not
(*no amn’t)
Present Progressive
I am not playing.
is+not = isn’t
are+not = aren't
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was+not = wasn’t
I wasn’t playing.
were+not = weren’t
They were not playing
have+not = haven’t
You haven’t played.
has+not = hasn’t
She has not played
I have not been
= haven’t been
She hasn’t been
= hasn’t been
Past Perfect
had+not = hadn’t
You hadn’t played
Past Perfect
She hadn’t been
= hadn’t been
Future Simple
will+not = won’t
Future Perfect
He will not have
= won’t have
She wouldn’t play
She wouldn’t have
Past Progressive
Present Perfect
Present Perfect
I won’t play.
can + not = can’t or
I can’t play.
cannot (formal)
I cannot play.
should+not = shouldn’t
We shouldn’t play.
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Similarly, in Vietnamese, we have the word “không” placed before
the main verb to mark a negation in sentence. Because it said that there is
no tense in Vietnamese sentences so making a negation will be easier
than in English, there are not auxiliary verbs added.
“Cô ấy rất đẹp” (affirmative) (She is very beautiful)
“Cô ấy không đẹp” (negative) (She is not beautiful)
“Gia đình tôi mua một ngôi nhà ở vùng quê” (affirmative) (My family
buys a house in the countryside)
“Gia đình tôi không mua ngôi nhà nào ở vùng quê” (negative) (My family
does not buy any house in the countryside)
Moreover, in Vietnamese, instead of using the word “không”, people
can use the other single words such as “chẳng”, “chả”… or phrases such
as “ không có”, “đâu phải”, “đâu có”,” chẳng phải”, “không hề”, “nào có”,
“có…đâu”, etc to express the negation in negative sentences. For
example, we can say that “Tôi chẳng phải dân vùng này”, “Tôi đâu phải
dân vùng này”or “Tôi không phải dân vùng này.” All of them have a same
meaning, which means I am not a resident in this region. However, it does
not mean that these words can always be replaced to each other in any
cases. It also depends on the context, the social relationship between the
speaker and the listeners (formal or informal), and the aims of the
speakers. For instance, a girl can say “Bố mẹ tớ chẳng có ở nhà” to her
friend but she have to say “Bố mẹ cháu không có ở nhà” to an elder
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person although they have the same meaning (My parents are not at
home). In the first sentence, the speaker and listener are the same age so
she can say informally while she have to say formally to the listener who is
older than her to express respect. In some cases, when someone asks you
“Bạn có muốn ăn chút gì không?” (Do you want any thing to eat?), it will be
polite to say “Tôi không đói” rather than “Tôi chẳng đói” (I am not hungry).
In fact, in Vietnamese, with the same meaning, these words such as
“không có”, “không phải”, “không” etc. are usually used in formal context or
in written language while “chẳng”, “chả”, “đâu có”, “không hề”, “chẳng hề”,
“chẳng phải”, “có…đâu” etc are often found in daily language or in close
According to Lê Quang Thiêm, in another aspect, the words “không”,
“chẳng”…are used in negation of an action, a progress, a characteristic.
“Nhiệm vụ chẳng hoàn thành.” (The mission did not succeed.)
“Cô ấy không đẹp như người ta đồn đại”. (She is not as beautiful as
people said about.)
On the other hand, “không”, chẳng”, “đâu có”, “không hề” going with
“là” is a negation of a relation or a characteristic.
“Nghèo khó đâu phải là tội lỗi.”
“Người lãnh đạo không phải là một vị thánh.”
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Secondly, general English sentences can also be changed into
negative form by the determiner “no” placed before a noun to reflect
negation in the sentence, which is called noun phrase negation.
“No one came to her birthday party yesterday.” means “Everyone did not
came to her birthday party yesterday.”
“They sold no paint this week.” means “They did not sell any paints this
“They will do no thing to help him.” mean “They won’t do any thing to
help him.”
“There is no chance that I will buy a new car” means “There is not any
change that I will buy a new car”
It is very popular to use such these sentences in both written and
spoken English. In many cases, it can help English learners avoid
complicated grammatical rules. Moreover, it is also a way to express the
importance of negation in the sentence. For example, in the second
example, using “sold no paint” will lead the hearers to pay attention to the
result “no paint was sold” than the action “did not sell”. In addition, we can
change noun phrase negation in which the word “no” is put at begin of
sentence into another form of negative sentence. For example, we can
change the sentence “No one came to her birthday party yesterday” into
“There was no one coming to her birthday party.” This change will not
make the meaning changed difficultly.
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Moreover, English also combines the word “no” with some indefinite
pronouns to form negative words, such as “nothing”, “nobody”, “no one”,
“none” etc to contribute to forming the negation in sentences.
“Nobody cares her.”
“Nothing is so terrible.”
“None of them died.”
When comparing to English negative noun phrase, noun phrase
negation in Vietnamese is not popular. However, it sometimes appears
with the noun phrase as a subject only.
“Không ai sợ hắn.” (No one fears him)
“Không rạp chiếu phim nào còn vé.” (No cinema still has tickets.)
“Không có mưa vào mùa này đâu.” (No rain falls that season)
Thirdly, in both two languages, to express a negation, people can
also use some negative adverbs such as “never”, “hardly”, “barely”,
“scarcely”, “hardly”, “seldom”, “rarely” etc. In English, negative adverb is
divided clearly into two forms, including negative adverb go with “positive
verbs” and negative adverb go with “to be”. Therefore, we have two
following formations:
Subject + negative adverb + positive verb
Subject + to be + negative adverb
“She never comes to church.” (Bà ấy không bao giờ đến nhà thờ.)
“John hardly studied at home.” (Tối qua John chẳng học gì cả.)
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“We seldom meet to each other.” (Chúng tôi hiếm khi gặp nhau.)
Through the examples above, we can find some similarities to
Vietnamese. Actually, Vietnamese are acquainted with using these
negative adverbs and we find a lot of them in real life as well as written
language such as “hiếm khi”, “không mấy khi”, “hiếm hoi lắm”, “hầu như
không”, “chẳng mấy khi” etc. With using them, the negation seems to be
less “negative” and make issue less serious to give more comfort to the
listeners. For example, if you want to make a complaint about your
younger brother to your mother that he does not do the homework, you
may say, “Con không bao giờ thấy em ấy làm bài tập về nhà cả.” (I have
never seen him doing the homework.) or “Con hiếm khi thấy em ấy làm bài
tập về nhà.” (I seldom see him doing the homework.). Apparently, these
two sentences are not different from each other between in English and in
Vietnamese. However, they are not same meaning in both languages.
Specifically, in English, when using the above sentence with negative
adverb “seldom” (hiếm khi), we can infer that the brother has done the
housework but it is very rare. However, in contrast with English, in
Vietnamese, “hiếm khi” means “never”. Therefore, when someone says
that sentence, Vietnamese will conclude that the boy actually does not do
anything, Although that is just a small point, it can causes Vietnamese
learners have troubles in learning English. Therefore, we should focus on
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Finally, Morphological negation is an important aspect to mention to
when we focus on negative sentences. As we know, English has a system
of suffixes, prefixes added to adjective, adverb or verb to form the
opposition, which is called morphological negation. Specifically, English
has the negative prefixes un-, in-, and non- go with adjective. For example,
we have “unhappy”, “insensitive”, and “nonpolitical”. With adverbs, we
usually have the prefix un-. For example, we have “unfortunately”,
“unluckily” etc. Beside that, the common prefix to a verb to mark the
negation is dis-. For example, we have “dislike”, “disaffirm”, and “disagree”.
Contrary to English, there is not any affix in Vietnamese grammar.
However, in real life, Vietnamese often use morphological negation such
as “vô ý thức” (unconscious) in contrast with “ý thức” (conscious), “vô trách
nhiệm” (irresponsible) in contrast with “có trách nhiệm” (responsible), “vô
hại” (harmless) with “có hại” (harmful), “vô ích” (useless) with “có ích”
(useful) etc. However, the function of the word “vô” is not like the word
“không” or “chẳng” in Vietnamese because it belongs to Chinese. Although
it is only placed before an adjective to form the opposite, not before a verb
or a noun, it is widely used in Vietnamese daily communication. Therefore,
we can consider it as an element of Vietnamese language.
Applying the theories of negative sentence to teaching English
Overall, negation in English and Vietnamese is the same. However,
Vietnamese students also encounter with problems of using negative
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sentence in English because of differences between two languages.
Especially, there are some especial points in formation and use of
negation in English and Vietnamese in particular. Among them, I would like
to focus on double negative and negative question in English, which is
different from Vietnamese.
The first point is double negative. As a definition, double negative
occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same clause. (“Double
negative,” n.d.).
In English, double negative resolving to a negative, which is not
used in Standard English. For example, we can say, "I do not want
nothing!”. However, In Standard English, double negatives are usually
understood to resolve to a positive. For example, with the sentence “I do
not want nothing!”, if there is very heavy stress on "do not" or a specific
plaintive stress on "nothing," Standard English can utilize the form "I do not
want nothing" as a way of emphasizing that the speaker would rather have
"something" than "nothing" at all. ( “Double negative,” n.d.). Therefore, we
have the following table:
Negative + Negative = Positive
Negative + Positive = Negative
In Vietnamese, using double negative is simpler. In our daily life, we
often say that “Tôi không nói là bạn không đúng” (I do not say that you are
not right) or “Không có ngày nào mà anh không nghĩ đến em” (There isn’t
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a day when I do not think about you). The meanings of two examples
make us think that they are double negative but it is wrong because the
two forms of negation are in different clauses. Based on the above
definition of double negative, we do not find any grammatical structure of
double negative in Vietnamese. It means that there is no double negative
in Vietnamese.
In English, double negation is widely used in written and spoken
language even though it is sometimes considered as a mark of
uneducated speaker. In fact, we have many examples of double negative
in poetry, music as well as other aspects of daily life. Therefore, it is
necessary for teacher to pay attention to teaching double negative.
The second one is negative question. According to research papers,
negative question is formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject, and
the word “not” after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the
contracted form of not immediately follows the auxiliary. The following are
examples of negative questions with and without contractions:
Without Contractions
With Contractions
Was I not working?
Wasn't I working?
Were they not working?
Weren't they working?
(“English grammar,” n.d.)
Negative question is not a strange matter to Vietnamese students
because in our language, we also have a equivalent structure. For
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example, we can say, “Bạn không nghĩ là mình nên thay đổi à?” (Don’t you
think you should change something?), “Họ không phải là một cặp sao?”
(Aren’t they a couple?), “Anh không biết tên cô ấy hả?” (Don’t you know
her name?) etc.
However, in some ways, there are still some differences between
using negative question between English and Vietnamese, especially, the
way of answering to negative question between two languages. For
example, if someone asks a question: “Bạn mệt à?” (Are you tired?), both
English and Vietnamese will say that “Vâng, tôi mệt.” (Yes,I’m tired).
Nevertheless, if the question is in negation, “Bạn không mệt sao?” (Aren’t
you tired?), English will answer “Yes, I’m tired” but Vietnamese will say
“Không, mệt chớ.” (No, I’m tired.) if he feels tired. Otherwise, the answer
wil be “Ừa, tôi không mệt?” (Yes, I’m not tired.) as a Vietnamese but the
answer will be “No, I’m not tired” if he is an English. That is the problem of
Vietnamese in learning English. In real life, Vietnamese have different
ways to respond to a normal interrogative and a negative question.
Although this difference is not serious, it can cause a misunderstanding in
communication between English and Vietnamese. In addition, Vietnamese
students will be in trouble of negative questions with the word “WHY”? if
they are not guided carefully about using it. For example, if an English
person asks you “Why don’t we go to the zoo?” and “Why doesn’t you do
your homework?” The grammatical structure of two above examples is the
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same. However, the first example is just an invitation and you have to
respond that “Let’s go” or “I’m sorry but I can’t go”. Meanwhile, the second
one is a question asking a reason that needs an answer. That structure is
also used in Vietnamese but it is very rare. Therefore, teachers should
spend theirs time to present it and help students practice it more.
In summary, there are many equivalents of negative sentence
between English and Vietnamese. Beside that, each language also has its
own special ways of forming and using negative sentence as I focused on.
However, the general rules of forming and using negative sentence in
English are more systematic. It will be not easy for Vietnamese students to
approach to English and learn it well. Therefore, as a teacher in the future,
I think we should have some practical way to help them overcome the
language barrier. I think at first, we have to introduce it to Vietnamese
students and ask them to focus on the “unusual thing” on that structure
instead of avoiding it for the fear that they can make the students
confused. Secondly, we give them the rule of constructing and using
negative sentence in English and in Vietnamese so that students can
distinguish the differences between them clearly. Moreover, the most
important point of learning grammar is to use it. Therefore, at the same
time of comparing, we should give many examples in both two languages
to help students familiarize and use negative sentence in right way.
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