Negation & Negative Words in Spanish

Instructor: Ashley Zehel

Ashley has a M.A. in Spanish as well as a B.S. in Foreign Language Education. She has taught K-12 and now teaches college level.

Sometimes you have to be a Debbie Downer or a Negative Nancy. To get your point across, it's easier if you have the right vocabulary. This lesson will teach you how to communicate using negative words in Spanish.

The Rules

Turn that smile upside down and put on your crabby pants. We're about to get really negative. Okay, so negative words are used for more than raining on parades: they have practical uses too.

In English, double negatives in a sentence are a big no-no! (See what I did there?). If you're fluent in English, you know these rules because double negatives just sound wrong. However, in Spanish, negative sentences can have double negatives. Once a sentence starts out negative in Spanish, it stays negative. We have two ways to formulate negative sentences in Spanish:

1) You can create a negative sentence by putting no (no, not) before the verb with the negative word. In other words, you can use the form No + verb + negative word. Notice that this way uses a double negative, which is perfectly fine in Spanish!

  • So, a sentence like ''I can't eat any broccoli'' translates to No puedo comer ningún brócoli, using two negative words, no and ningún (not any).

2) If you want to omit the no in front of the verb, you can have the other negative word appear somewhere before the verb in the sentence.

  • Using this method, our ''I can't eat any broccoli'' sentence ends up translating as Ningún brócoli puedo comer.

Also, if the negative word modifies the verb, it'll come directly before the verb.

  • For example, in the sentence ''I never study'', the negative word nunca (never) would come right before the verb: Nunca estudio.

The words

This first negative word is one you'll see most often. It comes before the verb when you're using a double negative and can be used on its own in simple sentences.

no - No, not

  • No estoy contenta. ''I'm not happy.''

Here are some other common negative words in Spanish. We'll practice the two forms for writing a negative sentence in each example.

nada - nothing

  • No hay nada que hacer or Nada hay que hacer. ''There is nothing to do.''

nadie - no one, nobody

  • No está nadie aquí or Nadie está aquí. ''Nobody is here.''

ninguno, ninguna, ningún - none, not any, not one

  • No quieren jugar conmigo ninguno de mis hermanos or Ninguno de mis hermanos quieren jugar conmigo. ''None of my brothers want to play with me.''

The word 'none' has to match in gender with the noun because it is a quantifying adjective. Adjectives always agree in gender and number, but there is no plural form for the word 'none', so we will only concern ourselves with the gender. If placed before a singular masculine noun, it will be shortened to ningún.

  • Ningún hermano quiere jugar conmigo. ''Not one brother wants to play with me.''
  • Ninguna hermana quiere jugar conmigo. ''Not one sister wants to play with me.''

ni...ni - neither… nor

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