Не (часть первая)

by Don  

The word for not in Russian is не. It can be used to negate nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases, and most other parts of speech:

Он не студент. He is not a college student.
Я живу не в Москве. It's not Moscow that I live in.
Он не понимает тебя. He doesn't understand you.

When you want to contrast something by first saying what it is not, you then use the conjunction «а» to introduce the thing it is:

Он не студент, а строитель. He's not a college student but rather a construction worker.
Я живу не в Москве, а в Туле. I live not in Moscow, but in Tula.
Она говорит не по-польски, а по-русски. She is speaking not Polish but Russian.

When не negates a verb, it is pronounced with the verb as a single word and is almost always unstressed, which means it's pronounced [ни] not [не]. Thus «я его не знаю» “I don't know him” is pronounced [я йиво низнаю]. There are a few exceptions where the не becomes stressed when negating a verb, and of those it's particularly important to know that when the past tense of быть is negated, the не becomes stressed and the быть form becomes unstressed. This happens in all past быть forms except the feminine:

В прошлом году он не был в Москве.
В прошлом году она не была в Москве.
В прошлом году оно не было в Москве.
В прошлом году они не были в Москве.

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