Negations Overview

Negations in Old English are different from negations in modern English in three ways.

Word Order

The negative particle always precedes the verb and often starts a sentence or construction. For example, 'Ne com heo - She didn't come' (literally 'not come she')' or 'Ne stel ðu - Do not steal' (literally 'no steal you'). It should be noted that auixlliary verbs like 'do' or 'can' are not routinely used in negative constructions the way they are in modern English. For example, 'I do not like', 'I cannot come'. Examine the sentence, 'Ne mette he nan gebun land - He did not find unoccupied land'.

Ne
Adverb
mette
Verb
he
Subject
nan
Adverb
gebun
Adjective
land
Object

Negated Verbs

Sometimes the negative particle that precedes the verb is joined to the start of the verb. This only happens with certain verbs, the most important being 'wesan - to be', 'habban - to have', and 'willan - to wish/want'. When this fusing of the negative particle to the start of the verb happens, sometimes the initial letters of the verb or the vowel in 'ne' is lost, leaving forms such as 'nis' (a contraction of 'ne is - is not') or 'noldon' (a contraction of 'ne woldon - did not want'). This process also happens with certain indefinite pronouns and adjectives which give us forms such as 'nan - none' (from 'ne an - not one'). Examine the sentence, 'Nylle ðu forgytan ealle edleanunga - You don't want to forget all rewards'.

Nylle
Adverb
ðu
Subject
forgytan
Verb
ealle
Adverb
edleanunga
Object

Double Negatives

In modern English, negatives cancel each other out. So, 'I do not not love Old English' means that you do, in fact, love it. In Old English, double negation simply emphasises the negation, and it is common to find negation applied to every word that can be made negative in a single sentence. If you are unfamiliar with how negation works, this can make the sentence very hard to read. For example, 'ða ða we hit nowæðer ne selfe ne lufodon ne eac oðrum mannum ne lefdon - When we neither loved it ourselves, nor even allowed it to others'.

Þa
Adverb
ða
Adverb
we
Subject
hit
Object
nowæðer
Conjunction
ne
Adverb
selfe
Reflexive
ne
Adverb
lufodon
Verb
ne
Adverb
eac
Prep.
oðrum
Object
mannum
Object
ne
Adverb
lefdon
Verb

The sentence below, 'Neom ic na Crist - I am not Christ', demonstrates all three of these features of Old English negation: word order, negated verbs, and double negation. See if you can spot them. When you are ready, continue on to Moods.

Neom
Verb
ic
Subject
na
Adverb
crist
Object
Return to Double Negation Continue to Moods of Verbs