Negation refers to the way a language constructs negative statements, such as changing 'I will go' or 'I like' to 'I will not go' or 'I don't like'. The main differences between Old English and modern English are the location of the negative particle 'ne - not' in the sentence, that some verbs have negated forms (more precisely, the attachment of the negative particle 'ne' to the start of the verb), and that double or multiple negatives reinforce rather than cancel out the negation.

In modern English the negative particle 'not' comes after an auxilliary verb. For example, 'I do not think', 'He can't go'. In Old English, the negative particle comes before the verb. For example 'Ic ne þence', 'He ne mehte feran'. Examine the sentence below, 'Ne spræc heo - She did not speak'.


In addition to the negative particle 'ne', other words are derived from the addition of the negative particle to indefinite pronouns. For example, in modern English we might say 'I have never eaten fish'; 'nobody is evil'; 'nothing is perfect', while in Old English you will see forms such as 'nalles - not at all'; 'nan - no/none'; and 'næfre - never'.

Certain verbs can also be prefixed by the negative pronoun in order to express negation. We will look at how this works in the following section on 'Negated Verbs'.

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