There is a group of words that includes everything and everybody in the world.
I bet you would not be able to name an object or person that is not included in this group.
Beyoncé? She certainly is!
A cup of coffee with low-fat milk? Indeed.
A red book with a blue corner, exactly 129 pages, 56 of which are grey? It might be very specific, but it is also included…
Anything and anyone cannot resist the power of this group of words. Pun intended (you will get it later).
I am talking about indefinite adjectives and pronouns and today, my friends, you are going to learn how to be unspecific while potentially including everything and everyone in the whole world.
Let’s meet the ningún and ninguno family and their relatives. By the time you finish this post, you will be able to tell these twins apart with ease!
How to Tell Ningún and Ninguno Apart
Before we dive into specifics, it will be helpful to understand the parts of speech that ningún and ninguno correspond to.
To do that, you will need to learn about indefinite adjectives and indefinite pronouns.
The simple explanation is that one word (ningún) is an adjective, while the other (ninguno) is a pronoun. But let’s delve deeper into things by giving the concept a closer inspection.
The difference between indefinite adjectives and indefinite pronouns
The difference between indefinite adjectives and pronouns is the same difference we observe in other adjective-pronoun pairs: while adjectives accompany the noun they refer to, pronouns substitute that noun.
Let’s take the word alguna (some/any, feminine) as an example. If we say:
¿Tienes alguna pregunta? (Do you have any question?)
Alguna is modifying the noun pregunta, so it is an adjective.
On the other hand, if we answer that question like this:
No, no tengo ninguna. (No, I do not have any.)
Ninguna keeps referring to pregunta, but the noun does not appear. Ninguna is substituting it, so it is a pronoun.
Things you should know about indefinite adjectives and pronouns
There are a couple of things you have to remember about indefinite adjectives and pronouns before you proceed:
- Indefinite pronouns and adjectives can be divided into positive and negative. The ones starting with an n- are negative, while the rest are positive.
- Indefinite adjectives always need to be followed by a noun, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Otherwise, they become pronouns.
- Indefinite adjectives and pronouns must always agree in gender and number with the noun they refer to.
- Negative indefinites obviously add a negative aspect to the sentence. Remember that Spanish allows you to use double negatives, so do not be surprised to find a sentence where you have no … + … indefinite (No quiero a nadie — I do not love anyone).
- However, if you start a sentence with an indefinite, you can no longer use no (Nadie me quiere — Nobody loves me).
Now you are ready to start. Welcome to the awesome world of Spanish indefinite adjectives and pronouns!
Ningún vs. Ninguno and Other Indefinite Relatives
Grammatically speaking, indefinite adjectives are words that refer to nouns without being specific. On the other hand, indefinite pronouns are words that can substitute any possible noun.
These two definitions can certainly be confusing if you are not a grammar nerd like me, so let me rephrase them:
- An indefinite adjective is an adjective that refers to an unspecified noun. If you say you want “any shirt,” the indefinite adjective “any” refers to “shirt” but the very meaning of the word “any” makes that shirt unspecific, because it can be any shirt in the world.
- An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that substitutes any unspecified noun. Again, if you want “any shirt,” but I tell you “I do not have any,” this last “any” substitutes “any shirt,” which, as we know, is an unspecified shirt. Hence “any” is a pronoun in this sentence.
The easiest way of learning the difference between ningún and ninguno and the meanings of the Spanish indefinite adjectives and pronouns is by studying them separately.
The following is a list of the main Spanish indefinite adjectives and pronouns. For each of them you will find an English translation and examples of use.
By the end of this post you will be able to understand when and how you should use each of them and, most importantly, you will finally know the answer to the eternal question: What is the difference between ningún and ninguno?
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And now, let’s get down to business. Enjoy!
The Algún and Ningún Families
You already know that algún and ningún are not specific, but what is their meaning?
Algún can be translated as “any,” some” or “a few,” depending on the context (there are some examples below).
Ningún means “no” or “not any,” also depending on the sentence.
But algún and ningún do not live by themselves! They both have siblings, and each sibling has its own role.
As I mentioned before, indefinite adjectives and pronouns must agree in gender and number with the noun they refer to. This is the reason why Spanish has four positive indefinite adjectives and four negative indefinite adjectives:
algún / ningún (masculine singular)
alguna / ninguna (feminine singular)
algunos / ningunos (masculine plural)
algunas / ningunas (feminine plural)
All of these eight indefinites are adjectives, which means they must be followed by a noun. Never forget that!
Here are some examples:
¿Tienes algún amigo español? (Do you have any Spanish friend?)
No quiero ninguna camiseta. (I do not want any T-shirt.)
Hemos comprado algunos libros. (We have bought some books.)
He olvidado algunas cosas. (I have forgotten a few things.)
The adjectives ningunos and ningunas do exist and are still sometimes used, but native speakers are turning their backs to them and generally prefer using only their singular counterparts.
For example, if you want to say you do not have any siblings—siblings being a plural noun—you would want to opt for the singular form of the indefinite and the noun in Spanish:
No tengo ningún hermano (I do not have any siblings) rather than No tengo ningunos hermanos.
The plural option sounds weird nowadays. Try to avoid using it whenever you can.
You now finally have enough background and grammar information to dive into these word pairs. You will see that by understanding the underlying concept behind these words, they will no longer be confusing to you. Let’s begin!
Algún vs. Alguno
I always tell my students that alguno is the older, independent brother that lives by himself in his own apartment and only comes to visit from time to time. Why?
Well, the difference between algún and alguno will help you understand why.
As we know, algún is an adjective and he must be followed (or taken care of) by a noun:
¿Has leído algún libro de García Márquez? (Have you read any García Márquez books?)
Alguno, on the other hand, is a pronoun, so it does its job by itself:
Sí, he leído alguno. (Yes, I have read one—we do not specify which one, it can be any of his books.)
Ningún vs. Ninguno
Just as it happens with algún and alguno, the difference between ningún and ninguno is that ningún is an adjective and ninguno is a pronoun.
The same rule applies here: Ningún needs to be followed by a noun, while ninguno does its job by itself and does not accept any:
No tengo ningún amigo español. (I do not have any Spanish friend.)
No tengo ninguno. (I do not have any.)
Notice that all four words (algún, alguno, ningún and ninguno) are masculine and singular. This is not just me being misogynist. The fact is that only masculine singular indefinite adjectives and pronouns have this duality, so you will only have a little headache with these four.
The rest of the members of both families do not change when they “transform” into pronouns:
¿Tienes alguna amiga de México? (Do you have any Mexican girl friend?)
¿Tienes alguna? (Do you have any?)
No vino ninguna niña. (No girl came.)
No vino ninguna. (None came.)
Let’s pause here to do a quick recap of what we just learned before we move on to other members of this word family:
Algún — Any (male, adjective)
Alguno — Any (male, pronoun)
Ningún — Not any (male, adjective)
Ninguno — Not any (male, pronoun)
Alguna — Any (female, either adjective or pronoun)
Ninguna — Not any (female, either adjective or pronoun)
Now, you are ready to learn a few more often-confusing word pairs!
Alguien vs. Nadie
Alguien and nadie are only used to refer to people.
Alguien means “someone, anyone, somebody, anybody,” while nadie means “no one, nobody.”
As it happens with every indefinite adjective and pronoun, the one starting with n- is the negative counterpart of the duo.
These two words are exclusively pronouns, which means they will always appear by themselves. They will be always referring to a person, any unspecified person, but they will never accept a noun with them:
¿Hay alguien ahí? (Is anyone there?)
Aquí no hay nadie. (There is no one here.)
Remember that when a negative indefinite starts the sentence, you are not allowed to use no any longer:
Nadie me quiere. (Nobody loves me, instead of *Nadie no me quiere.)
Algo vs. Nada
The last couple of indefinites in this post are algo and nada. They are similar to alguien and nadie in that they can only be pronouns and one (nada) is the negative equivalent of the other one (algo).
However, just as alguien and nadie can only refer to unspecific people, algo and nada can only refer to unspecific objects.
Algo means “something,” and it can be used to refer to literally everything:
Necesito algo para beber. (I need something to drink—and I do not mind if it is water, wine, juice or coffee.)
On the other hand, nada means “nothing, anything,” and it excludes everything:
No necesito nada. (I do not need anything.)
Nada te parece bien. (Nothing seems OK to you.)
And that is everything there is to know about Spanish indefinite adjectives and pronouns!
This is one of those topics that work quite similarly both in English and Spanish.
If you bear in mind Spanish makes adjectives and pronouns agree with the noun they refer to and that a negative indefinite at the beginning of a sentence does not allow no to appear in said sentence, you will not have any problem with this topic.
The amazing thing about indefinite adjectives and pronouns is that they can refer to everything and everybody.
Do not forget that masculine singular adjectives add an extra -o when they transform into pronouns. Other than that, I am sure you are ready to be a master of Spanish indefinites.
Remember to stay curious and, as always, happy learning!
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