Negative Words and Expressions in Spanish

       

Speak Spanish long enough and you'll find that in addition to making statements about what you and others do (affirmative sentences), you'll also need to express what you and others do not do (negative sentences). The simplest way to change a sentence from affirmative to negative in English is to include "do not" or "does not" (or "don't" or "doesn't"):

I play tennis.

She wants to write.

They watch TV.

I do not play tennis.

She doesn't want to write.

They don't watch TV.

The simplest way to change a sentence from affirmative to negative in Spanish is to include the word no in front of the verb:

Yo juego tenis.

Ella quiere escribir.

Ellos miran TV.

Yo no juego tenis.

Ella no quiere escribir.

Ellos no miran TV.

This would be a pretty short lesson if that were all there was too it, but we'll need more than just no to make any sentence negative.

Affirmative and Negative Words

In English we frequently include affirmative or indefinite words which need to be changed when they're used in a negative sense. Consider:

There is something inside.

She always writes poems.

They talk to someone.

There isn't anything inside.

She never writes poems.

They don't talk to anyone.

The same thing occurs in Spanish:

Hay algo adentro.

Ella escribe poemas siempre.

Ellos hablan a alguien.

No hay nada adentro.

Ella no escribe poemas nunca.

Ellos no hablan a nadie.

Following is a list of Spanish words that need to change depending on whether the sentence is an affirmative one or a negative one.

affirmative:

 

negative:

 

algo
alguien
alguno
siempre
o… o
también

something, anything
someone, anyone
some, any
always
either… or
also, too

nada
nadie
ninguno
nunca
ni… ni
tampoco

nothing, not anything
no one, not anyone
no, none, not any
never
neither… nor
neither, not either

Here are some examples of these affirmative/negative pairs.

Algo / Nada

The words algo and nada are pronouns that refer to things and objects (or the lack thereof.) They are "invariable" which means they do not change based on number or gender.

¿Tienes algo para escribir?
Do you have something to write with?

Parece que él necesita algo.
It looks like he needs something.

No tengo nada para escribir.
I have nothing to write with.

No, él no necesita nada.
No, he doesn't need anything.

Para Nada / Nada

You may also see the word nada (or the phrase para nada) used as an adverb to mean "at all."

No me gustan nada los gatos.
I don't like cats at all.

Él no me ayudó para nada.
He didn't help me at all.

Alguien / Nadie

Note: Don't forget the personal a with negative words when they are direct objects referring to people.

The words alguien and nadie are pronouns that always refer to people. They are invariable. When they are used as direct objects in a sentence remember to include a personal a.

¡Alguien me dio una docena de rosas!
Someone gave me a dozen roses!

¿Hizo alguien su tarea?
Did anyone do their homework?

Quiero invitar a alguien.
I want to invite someone.

Nadie me dio flores a mí.
Nobody gave me flowers.

No, nadie hizo su tarea.
No, no one did their homework.

No invites a nadie.
Don't invite anyone.

Alguno / Ninguno

As Adjectives

The words alguno and ninguno are adjectives that modify nouns. Just like any other adjective, they will need to be changed to agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify. The word alguno might become algunos, alguna, or algunas depending on the situation. The word ninguno might become ninguna. (You won't normally need ningunos or ningunas since you rarely have a plural form of "none.") Unlike other adjectives, these usually precede the nouns they modify.

Notice that like the adjectives uno, bueno, and primero, the words alguno and ninguno lose their "-o" ending when used before masculine, singular nouns. When that happens, they also gain an accent to keep the pronunciation consistent: algún, ningún.

Quiere leer algún libro.
He wants to read some book.

¿Has visto alguna película buena?
Have you seen a good movie?

Necesito algunos vasos aquí.
I need some glasses here.

Algunas personas lo creyeron.
Some people believed him.

No tiene ningún libro.
He doesn't have a book.

No vi ninguna película.
I have not seen any movie.

No necesito ningún vaso más.
I don't need one more glass.

Ninguna persona lo creyó.
Not one person believed him.

As Pronouns

The words alguno and ninguno can also be used as pronouns that refer to both people and things. They need to agree in gender and number with the nouns they are replacing. When used as pronouns, you will not drop any "-o" endings because they are replacing the nouns, not preceding them.

Note: It is possible to use a plural form of ninguno if you are referring to a word that doesn't have a singular form: No hay ningunos pantalones que me quedan bien.

Quiere leer alguno.
He wants to read one.

¿Has visto alguna?
Have you seen one?

Necesito algunos aquí.
I need some here.

Algunas lo creyeron.
Some believed him.

No tiene ninguno.
He doesn't have one.

No vi ninguna.
I have not seen any.

No necesito ninguno más.
I don't need any more.

Ninguna lo creyó.
Not one believed him.

Siempre / Nunca

The words siempre and nunca are adverbs that modify the verb in a sentence.

Carmen siempre jugaba fútbol.
Carmen was always playing soccer.

Su hermano nunca jugó fútbol.
Her brother never played soccer.

Alguna Vez

The expression alguna vez can also be considered the oppostie of nunca. It is translated as "one time," "once," or "ever" when used in a question.

Alguna vez yo visité Nicaragua.
I once visited Nicaragua.

¿Has visto alguna vez la película?
Have you ever seen the movie?

Yo nunca he viajado fuera del país.
I have never traveled out of the country.

No he visto nunca la película.
I have never seen the movie.

Jamás

The words nunca and jamás both mean "never." The word nunca is the more common of the two. The word jamás (or the phrase nunca jamás) is used for emphasis.

Jamás visité otro país.
I never visited another country.

¡Nunca jamás viajaré por avión!
I will never ever fly by plane!

Jamás should also be used instead of alguna vez in questions if a negative answer is expected. In these cases it means "ever."

¿Has escuchado jamás música tan mala?
Have you ever heard such bad music?

También / Tampoco

The words también and tampoco are adverbs.

—Me gustó el museo. —Yo también.
—I liked the museum. —Me too.

—Yo fui a la fiesta. —También fui.
—I went to the party. —I also went.

—No me gustó el museo. —Tampoco yo.
—I didn't like the museum. —Me neither.

—No fui a la fiesta. —Tampoco fui.
—I didn't go to the party. —I didn't either.

o… o / ni… ni

The word o is a conjunction meaning "or." You cannot use o in a negative sentence. You must use ni instead.

Traen lápices o bolígrafos.
They bring pencils or pens.

No había comida ni dinero.
There was no food or money.

When o shows up more than once in a sentence, the first instance translates to "either." More than one instance of ni translates to "neither"… "nor."

Traen o lápices o bolígrafos.
They bring either pencils or pens.

No había ni comida ni dinero.
There was neither food nor money.

Negative Sentence Structure

Using No / Double Negatives

In many of the examples above you may have noticed something that would make your elementary school teacher cringe: a double negative. Take a sentence like "I don't know nobody." In proper English this would be considered incorrect because the "don't" and the "nobody" cancel each other out. You are essentially saying "I know somebody." In Spanish, however, not only is it OK to use double negatives, it's proper to use them. If one part of your sentence is negative, the rest of the sentence needs to be negative too.

In Spanish, two negatives words don't cancel each other out; they reinforce each other. The general formula is:

no + verb + negative word

Note: You won't stop at a double negative. It's possible to have triple (or more) negatives in one sentence: Nunca he dicho nada a nadie tampoco.

Some examples:

Él no sabe nada de la revolución cubana.
He doesn't know anything about the Cuban revolution.

No tengo a nadie para ayudarme.
I don't have anyone to help me.

Nosotros no vimos ningún programa de televisión anoche.
We didn't watch any television program last night.

no viajas a las montañas nunca.
You don't ever travel to the mountains.

Yo no disfruto mis clases tampoco.
I don't enjoy my clases either.

Negative Words First

You don't always have to use the "no + verb + negative word" formula. You may start your sentence with nunca, tampoco, or a negative subject. If your sentence starts with a negative word (i.e. a negative word comes before the verb), you will not use a "no" in the sentence.

Nada me importa ahorita.
Nothing matters to me right now.

Nadie vino a la reunión ayer.
No one came to the meeting yesterday.

Ningún programa me interesó.
Not one program interested me.

nunca viajas a las montañas.
You never travel to the mountains.

Yo tampoco disfruto mis clases.
Neither do I enjoy my clases.

Other Negative Words and Expressions

Here are some other negative words and expressions you may find useful:

ahora no
apenas
de ninguna manera
de ningún modo
por ninguna parte
por ningún lado/lugar
ni siquiera
no en absoluto
no solo … sino también
nunca más
todavía no
ya no

not now
scarcely, hardly
no way, by no means
no way, by no means
nowhere
nowhere  
not even
absolutely not
not only … but also
never again
not yet
no longer

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