Teaching present simple negative form

Most languages have one present simple negative form, but not English.

We have two.

The use of one form over the other depends on whether or not the main verb in the negation is “to be”.

“To be” is an auxiliary verb, which is why its treatment is different to the rest.

Here are two affirmative sentences.

“I catch the bus to work every day.”

“This is a car.”

Now let us put them into the negative form.

“I do not catch the bus to work every day.”

“This is not a car.”

The first example negates the action “to catch the bus” by adding “to do” (another auxiliary verb) and “not” to the sentence.

The second example negates the noun “car” using “to be” and “not”. There is no need to add an auxiliary verb because “to be” is an auxiliary verb.

NOTE: The word “not” in a sentence can only follow an auxiliary verb. There are three primary English auxiliary verbs “to be”, “to do” and “to have”.

Negating all verbs except “to be”

The first example shown above adds the auxiliary verb “to do” and “not” then converts the main verb, “to catch”, into a bare infinitive. Bare infinitive is a grandiose term for a verb without the “to” prefix. “To catch” is the infinitive and “catch” is the bare infinitive.

Let us convert the previous example to the third person and see what happens.

Affirmative form: “He catches the bus to work every day.”

Negative form: “He does not catch the bus to work every day.”

This highlights the difference between the affirmative and negative forms.

The affirmative form conjugates the main verb. The negative form conjugates the auxiliary verb “to do” and relegates the main verb to the bare infinitive form. In this case, catch.

Fully conjugated affirmative

“I, you, we, you, they catch the bus to work every day.”

“He, She catches the bus to work every day.”

Fully conjugated negative

“I, you, we, you, they do not catch the bus to work every day.”

“He, She does not catch the bus to work every day.”

Negating when “to be” is the main verb

“To be” is an auxiliary verb; therefore, we do not have to add, “to do” when we form the negative.

“John is happy.” versus “John is not happy.”

“This is a car.” versus “This is not a car.”

“It is cold.” versus “It is not cold.”

“They are Spanish.” versus “They are not Spanish.”

“You are allowed in here.” versus “You are not allowed in here.”

What about “to have”, the third auxiliary verb?

“To have” is the inevitable exception. When we use “to have” in the present simple, it is not acting as an auxiliary verb. It signifies possession (desired or not) or ownership. For example:

Affirmative “I have a car.”

Negative “I do not have a car.”

Affirmative “Elizabeth has a cold.”

Negative “Elizabeth does not have a cold.”

If “to have” were acting as an auxiliary, we would incorrectly write, “I have not a car.” or “Elizabeth has not a cold.”


After a wade through the technical side, the management summary for teaching present simple negative form:

Present simple sentences with any verb except “to be” are negated by using, “to do”, “not” and converting the main verb to the bare infinitive.

“Eric works in an office.” – “Eric does not work in an office.”

Present simple sentences using “to be” are negated by adding, “not”.

“They are Canadians.” – “They are not Canadians.”

Teaching present simple wall chart visual aid

Teaching present simple negative form is a continuation from a previous article, “Teaching Present Simple, anything but simple! – Teaching tips from EBC

We published a present simple wall chart to help your learners. Feel free to download it and use it in your school or classroom.

Get a full-size version of our present simple wall chart here http://visual.ly/teaching-english-grammar-uses-present-simple

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