Syntax agreement simply describes adverbs that have specific meanings when used in a positive or negative sentence, and the adverb may specifically require being in a negative sentence.
Some adverbs must be used in a negative sentence. Others can be in either positive or negative sentences, but translations change. This can get quite tricky.
|全然||Extremely/a lot (Colloquial)||Not at all|
|あまり||Quite/too （あまりに Only)||Not quite/very (あまり Only)|
|[すこし・ちっと]も||Not a bit|
Point 1: Examples of the colloquial usage of 全然 include 全然大丈夫 (completely fine).
Point 2: Examples of 絶対（に） include the following.
I will never allow/forgive.
Point 3: あまり is more common in negative contexts. あんまり is a colloquial variant due to ん insertion. In positive contexts, it implies that a limit has been passed, making it similar to 非常に (very/greatly/much/quite).
I'm not really good.
4. あんまり分かんない。(Colloquial; 東京弁)
I don't quite understand.
5. あんまり運動しません。(More spoken)
I don't exercise much.
Point 4: With negative expressions とても means "not at all". とっても is a more forceful variant.
I simply cannot mimic.
I'm very tired.
Chinese is very difficult!
Point 5: 決して may be casually pronounced as けして.
I don't understand at all.
This door won't shut.
I don't watch television at all.
That day is a little...
Culture Note: Japanese is indirect and so are the people that speak it. When people want to decline an invitation, they often say ...はちょっと with a very reluctant tone.
Practice (1): Translate the following. You may use a dictionary.
1. I don't understand a bit.
まだ VS 全然 VS 全く
In a negative sentence, まだ means "yet; still hasn't". 全然 is "not at all", and so is 全く. The first two examples demonstrate the basic fact that まだ is not a synonym of other two. The rest of the section will be how nuance changes when considering these three words.
It's still raining.
"Have you written it?" "No, I haven't written it yet".
Sleeping is difficult sometimes. We might tell our friends we didn't sleep at all last night even though we actually slept a little. Or, we may have a hard time falling asleep and try talking to someone in the meantime. In that situation, though, have you actually dozed off and failed to truly fall asleep, or have you been completely sleepless? With all of this in mind, we'll now learn how to express these situations in Japanese.
15. まだ寝ていません。 VS まだぜんぜん寝ていません。
I still haven't slept (at all). I still haven't slept any. (Have slept but not enough)
16. まだ寝ない。 VS ぜんぜん寝ない。
I still won't sleep. I won't sleep at all.
It's already morning? But I still haven't slept much at all.
18. きのうは全く寝なかった。 (You didn't sleep for even a minute)
19. きのうは全然寝なかった。 (You slept a little)
きのうは全然寝(ら)れなかった means "I couldn't sleep at all", but it sounds like you might have slept some. So, you might find yourself in a conversation like the following.
"Haa, I didn't sleep at all last night" "Really? You didn't sleep a bit?" "Well, I did sleep if that's what you mean, but I would wake up every thirty minutes"
Misconceptions on 全然
In school Japanese are taught that 全然 should be used with the negative. Although this is the prescriptive rule for Japanese today, in actuality it has never had this restriction. The word is relatively new through borrowing from Edo Period Chinese. At the time, it was given the translations 根っから and すっかり which both roughly equate to "completely", but the first one is most like 全然, being used with both positive and negative sentences.
Getting closer to modern times, the meaning changed to show that "although one thought one recognized a little bit, one actually doesn't comprehend anything". Because this became the taught definition in schooling since, this has been ingrained in the minds of most people.
Now the word has changed its meaning again in spoken casual language to mean とても. So, now you get sentences like ぜんぜんおいしい and ぜんぜん大丈夫. The former, though, may sometimes have the nuance of "not thinking it would be delicious but turns out it is quite alright".
So, can you use it in a positive sentence? Yes. Should you use it in official documents or formal writing? No. You must go with the standards of the times.