Not all languages form questions and negative sentences the way we do in English. In English, we must add the auxiliary (helping) verb “do.” This confuses many non-native speakers when they start learning English. For that reason, incorrectly forming questions and negatives is a very common English mistake.
Sentences in Simple Present
This English grammar lesson will concentrate on the simple present tense. Here is an example of a sentence in the simple present:
He plays football.
This is a simple sentence with a subject (“he”) and a verb (“to play”), which is conjugated in third person singular (“plays”). Easy, right?
Negative Sentences in Simple Present
But what if I want to make this sentence negative? Many languages simply add the word for “no” or “not” to make the sentence negative. Unfortunately, it does not work that way in English. ESL (English as a second language) learners often make this common English mistake.
He no play football.
He not play football.
No he play football.
To make this sentence negative using proper English grammar, you must use the words “does not” (or the contraction “doesn’t”) after the subject. This makes the correct negative sentence one of the following:
He does not play football.
He doesn’t play football.
But did you notice any other changes? The main verb has changed back to the base form of “play” (with no “s”). This is the rule. In negative sentences with action verbs in the simple present, we must do the following:
1) Add a form of “do” (“do” or “does”)
2) Add the word “not” (or use the contraction “doesn’t” for “does not” or “don’t” for “do not”)
3) Use the verb in the base form (play, talk, write, etc.)
To confirm, the sentences with correct English grammar are the following:
Positive: He plays football.
Negative: He does not play football.
Here are some more negative sentences in simple present:
She does not drink coffee. (Or “She doesn’t drink coffee.”)
I do not live in a big city. (Or “I don’t live in a big city.”)
We do not have a car. (Or “We don’t have a car.”)
Questions in Simple Present
Now let’s look at questions. How do we make our original sentence into a question? Again, we must use the correct form of “do,” but this time we put it at the beginning of the sentence. And don’t forget to change the main verb to the base form, as we did in negative sentences. Not changing the verb to its base form is another common English mistake. Here is the correct way to form the question using proper English grammar:
Does he play football?
To make a question, we put “does” at the start of the sentence and changed “plays” to the base form “play.” Also, remember to use a question mark at the end. It is important in English grammar to use correct punctuation. Here are some more examples:
Does she speak Portuguese?
Do you like spicy food?
Do they travel often?
Exception: The Verb “To Be”
The above rule works for almost all verbs in English: run, read, eat, look, drive, think, love and many more. However, here’s an important English grammar tip to remember: the rule does NOT work if the main verb in the sentence is “to be.” If the verb in the sentence is “to be,” we never add the verb “do” to make the sentence negative or to turn it into a question.
The verb “to be” is often used to describe people or objects: how they feel or how they are. If you describe someone as smart, tall, pretty, funny, a man or a woman, you will use a form of “to be.” It is also used for names, ages, nationalities, professions and feelings. For example:
He is angry.
To make this into a negative or a question, we do NOT need to use the auxiliary verb “do.” Here is the above sentence in the negative:
He is not angry.
And here are some other examples:
She is not hungry.
We are not lost.
They are not from Mexico.
This English grammar tip should please many students since it is more similar to other languages!
To ask a question with the verb “to be,” we simply need to put the verb at the beginning of the sentence:
Is he angry?
Is she hungry?
Are we lost?
Are they from Mexico?
One final note: this English grammar tip is true for other types of sentences with “to be,” such as sentences in present continuous tense. We do NOT use the verb “do” when making a negative sentence or question in present continuous. Here is one example:
Positive: He is playing football.
Negative: He is not playing football.
Question: Is he playing football?
English can be confusing but don’t feel bad. Making mistakes in English is normal. You can and will learn these English grammar rules. It just takes time.
Now, let’s practice once more with some questions:
Do you like this blog?
Does this article help you understand?
Are you happy?
We hope the answer to all these questions is YES!
Interested in more English grammar tips? Consider taking classes with LCI Language Centers. We have online and in-person English programs for all levels. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you improve your English by practicing with native speakers!