Although children do express negation even at the one-word stage (e.g., using the word ''no!''), the acquisition of sentential negation is not fully acquired until much later. There are three stages in the acquisition of negation in English: (i) The negative marker is placed outside the sentence, usually preceding it (e.g., 'not go movies" and ''no Mommy do it''); (ii) the negative marker is sentence internal, placed adjacent to the main verb but without productive use of the auxiliary system (e.g., ''I no like it" and ''don't go''); and (iii) different auxiliaries are used productively and the child's negations approximate the adult forms (e.g., ''you can't have it" and ''I'm not happy"). Although the existence of the first stage has been questioned by some researchers, there does appear to be cross-linguistic support for an initial period when negative markers are placed outside the main sentence.

Negation is used by children to express a variety of meanings. These emerge in the following order, according to studies of children learning a wide range of languages: ''nonexistence,'' to note the absence of something or someone (e.g., ''no cookie,"'); ''rejection,'' used to oppose something (e.g., ''no bath"'); and ''denial,'' to refute the truth of a statement (e.g., ''that not mine"). Some children show consistent patterns of form-meaning relations in their negative sentences. For example, one child used external negation to express rejection while at the same stage reserved sentence internal negation forms to express denial. These patterns may have had their source in the adult input.

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