Did you know that there are some words we use almost exclusively in negative or interrogative clauses, most of which have corresponding words used almost exclusively for positive clauses? There’s just a handful of these, but they’re pretty common.
Note that these are based on common usage but are not hard-and-fast rules, so there are certainly exceptions and flexibility.
The Helping Verb ‘Do’
This doesn’t apply when ‘do’ is used as the main verb. ‘Do’ is an empty auxiliary verb; it carries no meaning itself. We almost always use ‘do’ when we need to work with a helping verb but don’t already have one. It’s the spare tire of helping verbs. Auxiliary verbs are required for manipulating questions and negative clauses, so in those cases, if a helping verb isn’t already present, use ‘do’. If the clause is positive, you probably don’t need ‘do’, so you should remove it. The most notable exception is that we can use ‘do’ in positive sentences to emphasize the verb.
+ “I care.”
– “I DO not care.”
? “DO you care?”
The opposite of ‘too’ is ‘not enough’. You could say the internet is “too slow”, or that it’s “not fast enough”. For questions, we use enough, as in ‘“Is the internet fast enough?” Note, however, that these are in reference to missing the standard in one direction or the other. If it his that standard precisely then ‘enough’ is appropriate for positives, as in “Yes, the internet is fast enough”.
+ “There are TOO many people here.”
– “There are not ENOUGH people here.”
? “Are there ENOUGH people here?”
‘Already’/‘Yet’ and ‘Still’/‘Anymore’
‘Already’ and ‘yet’ are two different sides of the same coin, so to speak. In expressing that something has already been completed (perhaps with Past Simple or Present Perfect), we say ‘already’, but if it hasn’t been completed or if we’re not sure, we use ‘yet’.
+ “She ALREADY paid for dinner.”
– “She didn’t pay for dinner YET.”
? “Did she pay for dinner YET?”
In the same way, ‘still’ and ‘anymore’ are two sides of the same coin. In expressing that something is ongoing (usually with a Progressive/Continuous tense, or with a stative verb in Present Simple), we say ‘still’, but we say ‘anymore’ for negative. Either could be used for questions.
+ “He is STILL practicing guitar.”
– “He isn’t practicing guitar ANYMORE.”
? “Is he practicing guitar ANYMORE?” … “Is he STILL practicing guitar?”
However, when not in an ongoing sense but instead referring to whether something has even begun (often with Perfect tenses), ‘still’ is often used in the negative usage, as in “We still haven’t received our menus yet.”
‘Some’ and ‘any’ essentially mean the same thing, but ‘some’ is used for positive while ‘any’ is used for negative. Either can be used for interrogative (there is sometimes a slight difference between these two words in questions, but we won’t get into that here).
+ “You have SOME candy.”
– “You don’t have ANY candy.”
? “Do you have ANY candy?” … “Do you have SOME candy?”
We say ‘used to’ when discussing old habits or other verbs that occurred regularly in the past but not the present. But for negatives and questions, we add ‘did’ and drop the ‘d’ in ‘used to’, changing it to ‘(did) use to’.
+ “They USED TO watch cartoons.”
– “They didn’t USE TO watch cartoons.”
? “Did they USE TO watch cartoons?”
The differentiation of these words comes so natural to native speakers that we don’t really think about it as we use them. But teachers should be aware of this so that they can pass this information on to non-native English speaking students.