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Negation in Arabic: How to Say No and More

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I get it, when learning a language we always want to be positive and say Yes! to everything that comes our way. New experiences, new skills, more language practice

However, we need to learn how to say no as well. And not just that, but also how to use negative sentences.

A Woman Holding Cards with the Words Yes and No on Them

If you want to master negation in Arabic, keep reading. In this article, we’ll look at how to… 

  • …form negative sentences in Arabic (for both nominal and verbal sentences).
  • …answer yes-or-no questions correctly and politely.
  • …use other common negative expressions such as “never,” “no one,” and “nowhere.” 

Sure, sometimes saying no isn’t easy…especially for us people-pleasers. But I assure you it will be (at least from a language-learning point of view!), after you’ve read this. 

Let’s waste no more time, then. Here’s everything you need to know about forming negatives in Modern Standard Arabic!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. What is a Negative Sentence?
  2. Negatives with Verbs
  3. Negatives without Verbs
  4. Answering “Yes-or-No” Questions
  5. Useful Negative Words and Phrases
  6. How Our Website Can Help

1. What is a Negative Sentence?

A negative sentence says that something is false or that something has not happened. In English, for example, we build negatives by adding the word “not” after a helping verb (do, have, be, etc.).

  • Dave is not happy. 
  • We did not go to work today. 

There are several different Arabic negation particles used to negate verbs. In Modern Standard Arabic, the most commonly used ones are: لا, لَمْ, لَنْ (, lam, lan).

Another thing to keep in mind when creating negative sentences in Arabic is that you’ll need to look at the type of sentence you’re negating. Is it a nominal sentence or a verbal sentence?

2. Negatives with Verbs

As we just mentioned, there are two types of sentences in Arabic. Depending on the word with which it starts, a sentence can be verbal (when it starts with a verb) or nominal (when it starts with a noun). 

A verbal (فِعْلِيَّة [fiʿliyyah]) sentence must contain at least a verb and a subject to be meaningful. For example:

أَعيشُ في مِصر.
ʾaʿīšu fī miṣr.
I live in Egypt.

Or:

يُحِبُّ هاني السَفَر.
yuḥibbu hānī al-safar.
Hany loves traveling.

Negating a sentence with a verb is quite simple: You just need to negate the verb. 

In order to perform Arabic verb negation, you just need to add the appropriate negative particle before the verb. Again, the most common Arabic negative particles are: لا, لَمْ, لَنْ (, lam, lan). 

Let’s learn how to use them!

Negatives in the Past

We use a different particle according to the tense of the verb we’re negating. The negative particle لَمْ (lam) makes a verb past tense. 

تَأكُل مَها العَشاء.
taʾkul mahā al-ʿašāʾ.
Maha eats dinner.

لَم تَأكُل مَها العَشاء.
lam taʾkul mahā al-ʿašāʾ.
Maha did not eat dinner.

Note how the tense changed from present to past even though the form of the verb didn’t change one bit. It only gained a لَمْ (lam) before it.

Two Little Girls Drinking Milk

Negatives in the Present

To negate a verb in the present tense, we can use the particle لا ().

Like the previous particle, the particle لا () does not change the verb form; it only negates the meaning when placed before it. 

أَشْرَبُ الحَلِيْب.
ʾašrabu al-ḥaliyb.
I drink the milk.

لا أَشْرَبُ الحَلِيْب.
lā ʾašrabu al-ḥaliyb.
I don’t drink the milk.

Negatives in the Future

Then we have لَنْ (lan), which makes the verb future tense.  

تَأكُل مَها العَشاء.
taʾkul mahā al-ʿašāʾ.
Maha eats dinner.

لَن تَأكُل مَها العَشاء.
lan taʾkul mahā al-ʿašāʾ.
Maha will not eat dinner.

Negatives in the Imperative

To negate the imperative form of a verb, which is used to give instructions and commands, we use the particle لا (). In this case, the verb form changes from the imperative form to the present form, conjugated according to the gender and number of the people to whom it’s directed.

اِذْهَبْ إلى الجامِعَة اليَوْم.
iḏhab ʾilā al-ǧāmiʿah al-yawm.
Go to the university today.

لا تَذْهَبْ إِلَى الجامِعَة اليَوْم.
lā taḏhab ʾiilaā al-ǧāmiʿah al-yawm.
Don’t go to the university today.

3. Negatives without Verbs

Nominal sentences (اِسْمِيَّة [ismiyyah]) are sentences that start with a noun. They usually consist of a noun, followed by either a noun, an adjective, a verb, or a prepositional phrase. Here, we’re concerned with all these combinations except for the one that contains a verb, since that one will be negated the same way that verbal sentences are negated. 

Don’t worry. You’ll need to use a different, but still simple, approach. In Modern Standard Arabic, you’ll need to insert the appropriate conjugation of ليس (laysa). 

ليس (to not be)
 EnglishStandard Arabic
SingularI am notلَستُ (lastu)
you (masc.) are notلَستَ (lasta)
you (fem.) are notلَستِ (lasti)
he is notلَيسَ (laysa)
she is notلَيسَت (laysat)
Dualwe are notلَسنا (lasna)
you are notلَستُما (lastumā)
they (masc.) are notلَيسا (laysā)
they (fem.) are notليَسَتا (laysatā)
Pluralwe are notلَسنا (lasnā)
you (masc.) are notلَستُم (lastum)
you (fem.) are notلَستُنَّ (lastunna)
they (masc.) are notلَيسوا (laysū)
they (fem.) are notلسنَ (lasna)

Here’s an example of a nominal sentence in Arabic: 

هُوَ طَوِيل.
huwa ṭawil.
He is tall.

هُوَ لَيْسَ طَويلاً.
huwa laysa ṭawīlan.
He is not tall.

A Taller Boy Standing Next to a Shorter Boy

On the other hand, Egyptian Arabic negation is quite different in this regard: You only need to insert مش (miš) between the subject and the predicate, and it doesn’t change according to number or gender, unlike in Modern Standard Arabic. Simple and easy!

أَنا لِبنانِيَّة.
ʾanā lebnāniyyah.
I am Lebanese. [f.]

أَنا مِش لِبنانِيَّة.
ʾanā meš lebnāniyyah.
I am not Lebanese. [f.]

4. Answering “Yes-or-No” Questions

There are two types of questions: open-ended and closed-ended. A closed-ended question is usually one you can answer with a “yes” or “no,” without having to give any other explanation. Let’s see how to answer these. In English, for example, we say: “Yes, I do,” or “No, I don’t.”

Logically, to answer a yes-or-no question in Arabic, we start with نَعَم (naʿam) meaning “yes” or لا () meaning “no.” In Arabic, the sentence in question is repeated again in the answer after yes or no.

 هَل ذاكَرتَ اليَوم؟
hal ḏākarta al-yawm?
Did you study today?

 . لا، لَم أُذاكِر اليَوم
lā, lam ʾuḏākir al-yawm.
No, I didn’t study today.

نَعَم، ذاكَرتُ اليَوم.
naʿam, ḏākartu al-yawm.
Yes, I studied today.

A Full Moon Over a Natural Landscape

5. Useful Negative Words and Phrases

Now that you know more about the Arabic negation system, how about we look at some commonly used expressions you’ll need to sound like a native?

Did you know, for example, that the word “never” can be translated in two different ways in Arabic, depending on the verb tense you’re using?

If you’re speaking about the past, use قَطُّ (qaṭṭ), a word that means “never,” “ever,” or “at all.”

لَمْ أَفْعَلْ ذٰلِكَ قَطّ.
lam ʾafʿal ḏٰalika qaṭṭ.
I have never done that.

If you’re speaking about the future, however, you’ll need to use another word: أَبَداً (ʾabadًan), which means “always,” “forever,” or “ever.”

لَنْ أَزُورَهُ أَبَداً.
lan ʾazūrahu ʾabadan.
.I will never visit him

Remember, قَطُّ (qaṭṭ) and أَبَداً (ʾabadًan) can only be used with the negation. 

Here are some more useful expressions to go with negative sentences: 

  • nowhere / not anywhere: لا مَكان (lā makān)
  • no one / nobody: لا أَحَد (lā ʾaḥad)
  • nothing / not anything: لا شَيء (lā šaīʾ)
  • neither…nor: لا… وَلا (lā…walā)

6. How Our Website Can Help

A Man Studying Arabic Online

If you want to learn more Arabic grammar rules and vocab, make sure you have a look at ArabicPod101.com. Here, you’ll find all the resources you need to make your language learning journey as interesting and fun as possible. 

You’ll be able to practice your listening skills with podcasts and audio lessons, expand your vocabulary with word lists and key phrases, and learn great strategies for studying Arabic more efficiently and effectively.

If you want to learn this amazing language in order to travel to an Arabic-speaking country, you cannot miss our travel Survival Course. Knowing some Arabic will help you be safe during your trip abroad, and being able to understand and communicate with the locals will make your adventures even more unforgettable… 

Of course, I hope that you’ll be able to say yes to all the invitations and offers you’ll receive… But, well, at least you now know how to say “no” correctly (from a grammatical point of view)!

And, if you’re studying Arabic for work or study reasons, make that commitment and start using our features to practice and improve every day. The content available here will keep you motivated in your Arabic studies and will help you reach your language-learning goals in no time at all!

Before you go, we’d love to hear from you. How has this article helped you? Is anything still unclear about negation in Arabic? We’ll do our best to help you out!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic