Negative questions in English

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What are negative questions? What do negative questions look like? Why do we need this type of question?

This is going to be a short and simple topic.

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Why do we need Negative Questions?

We use Negative Questions in English in the same cases as general questions.

Almost everything we can ask with a general question we can ask using a negative one.

Take a look at examples:

General question: Are you going to work?
Negative question: Aren’t you going to work?

General question: Did John buy a car?
Negative question: Didn’t John buy a car?

These questions practically do not differ in meaning. We can answer any of these questions in the same way:

General question: Are you going to work?
Answer: No.

Negative question: Aren’t you going to work?
Answer: No.

The difference is that in negative questions we ask about what did not happen, was not done, etc.

Negative questions contain the negative not, so we use these questions to emphasize emotions such as:

  • irritation
  • surprise
  • delight
  • misunderstanding
    etc.
Infographic shows use cases for negative questions
Negative questions. Use cases.

Types of negative questions

Negative questions can be contracted or uncontracted.

Negative questions may have a different word order that differs from the word order in a regular interrogative sentence.

We form contracted negative questions using the following scheme:

Auxiliary verb + negative particle not + subject

Don’t you live with five friends?

Didn’t they say no one lived here?

Aren’t you supposed to be in school?

Uncontracted questions serve the same function as contracted negative questions. But uncontracted questions are more formal.

We form uncontracted negative questions using the following scheme:

Auxiliary verb + subject + negative particle not

Do you not trust me now?

Do you not recognize your own best friend?

Are they not phenomenal?

Was she not in her room?

Notice the negative not in the uncontracted negative questions. We put the not after the ADJECTIVE. Not after the auxiliary verb!

Do you not recognize your own best friend?

This position of the negative not looks strange. But it is precisely this position that makes the sounding of such a question official.

Negative questions in requests, suggestions, and comments

We often use negative questions in polite requests and suggestions.

Negative + interrogative form emphasizes the right to choose and this makes the sentence more polite.

Most often, such interrogative requests begin with words such as:

  • Wouldn’t you …?
  • Why don’t you …?
  • Won’t you …?

Wouldn’t you love to do that show?

Why don’t you get some more champagne?

Why don’t you take him shopping?

Won’t you please see him?

Won’t you join us, uncle?

We can use such sentences not only when we want to say something positive. We use such sentences to express dissatisfaction or annoyance.

Wouldn’t you stop moaning ?!

Why don’t you finish your homework first ?!

Why don’t you shut up ?!

An example of a negative question, mom is standing next to a boy who is writing something in a notebook.

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