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.
wants to write.
They watch TV.
I do not play tennis.
doesn't want to write.
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.
Ellos miran TV.
Yo no juego tenis.
no quiere escribir.
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
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.
always writes poems.
They talk to
There isn't anything inside.
never writes poems.
They don't talk
The same thing occurs
Hay algo adentro.
escribe poemas siempre.
No hay nada adentro.
no escribe poemas nunca.
hablan a nadie.
is a list of Spanish words that need to change depending on whether
the sentence is an affirmative one or a negative one.
nothing, not anything
no one, not anyone
no, none, not any
neither, not either
Here are some
examples of these affirmative/negative pairs.
Algo / Nada
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.
Do you have something to write with?
que él necesita algo.
It looks like he needs something.
No tengo nada para escribir.
I have nothing to write with.
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
I don't like cats at all.
Él no me ayudó para
He didn't help me at all.
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.
me dio una docena de rosas!
Someone gave me a dozen roses!
alguien su tarea?
Did anyone do their homework?
invitar a alguien.
I want to invite someone.
Nadie me dio flores a mí.
Nobody gave me flowers.
nadie hizo su tarea.
No, no one did their homework.
invites a nadie.
Don't invite anyone.
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
He wants to read some book.
¿Has visto alguna
Have you seen a good movie?
I need some glasses here.
Algunas personas lo creyeron.
Some people believed him.
No tiene ningún
He doesn't have a book.
No vi ninguna
I have not seen any movie.
No necesito ningún
I don't need one more glass.
Ninguna persona lo creyó.
Not one person believed him.
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
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?
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
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 was always playing soccer.
Su hermano nunca jugó fútbol.
Her brother never played soccer.
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.
yo visité Nicaragua.
I once visited Nicaragua.
¿Has visto alguna vez la película?
Have you ever seen the
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.
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.
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.
el museo. Yo también.
I liked the museum. Me too.
fui a la fiesta. También fui.
I went to the party. I
me gustó el museo. Tampoco yo.
I didn't like the museum.
No fui a
la fiesta. Tampoco fui.
I didn't go to the party. I didn't
o / 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
They bring pencils or pens.
No había comida ni
There was no food
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"
Traen o lápices o
They bring either pencils or pens.
No había ni comida ni
There was neither food
Negative Sentence Structure
Using No / Double Negatives
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:
+ 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.
no sabe nada de la revolución cubana.
He doesn't know anything about the Cuban revolution.
No tengo a nadie
I don't have anyone to help me.
no vimos ningún
programa de televisión anoche.
We didn't watch any television program
viajas a las montañas
You don't ever travel to the mountains.
no disfruto mis clases
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.
to me right now.
a la reunión ayer.
No one came to the meeting yesterday.
programa me interesó.
Not one program
viajas a las montañas.
You never travel to the mountains.
tampoco disfruto mis clases.
do I enjoy my clases.
Other Negative Words and Expressions
are some other negative words and expressions you may find useful:
de ninguna manera
de ningún modo
por ninguna parte
por ningún lado/lugar
no en absoluto
no way, by no means
no way, by no means