How to Fully Master Spanish Negation, Way Beyond the Double Negative
Once upon a time there was a sentence with five negative words.
Five, count ’em, five.
Once upon another time, there was one little word upon which the fate of the whole universe depended.
Well, maybe not the fate of the whole universe, but for sure the happiness of many people, the fate of many countries and even the outcome of such trivial things as cooking some soup or buying some bread.
That little word is, as you may have guessed by the title of this post, the word NO.
No, nie, nein, non…negation is a universal thing, and each and every speaker of every language in the world needs that little particle in order to be able to fully express themselves.
Something so inherent in human nature should be easy to use, easy to learn and, above all, easy to command, but no es oro todo lo que reluce (not all that glitters is gold), and oftentimes we find ourselves up against a big wall of negation rules and exceptions that seem to be never-ending.
Have a look at the following examples in Spanish:
No me gusta ningún libro (I don’t like no book).
Ningún libro no me gusta* (I don’t like no book).
We have two Spanish sentences with the exact same words, but for some reason the first one is correct and the second one is incorrect.
If you have a look at the English translation, you will see that both sentences contain a double negation which many people would consider incorrect in standard English.
In Spanish, however, there’s no possibility for the sentence ningún libro no me gusta to be correct, no matter the context.
This happens because, as with every single grammar topic in any language, we have plenty of rules (and exceptions!) restraining and controlling our language.
Now I don’t imagine that you’ll learn every single rule in the universe regarding Spanish grammar. Hell, I don’t even need you to learn every single rule regarding Spanish negation! But I wouldn’t want you to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when talking in Spanish. Your goal is to sound like a native, to talk like a native and, in due time, to be mistakenly thought to be a native.
That’s why I’ve decided to prepare a whole post on Spanish negation. This detail can go a long way in making you sound more native. In the following lines you’ll find a list of the most important negation words in Spanish along with a lot of examples in context. You’ll discover that double negation indeed exists in Spanish, and even triple and quadruple negations can be possible!
But before we travel into the realm of Spanish negation, let me quickly show you the main differences between English and Spanish negaciones.
Have fun learning about the art of saying “no” in Spanish, and remember that we aren’t bad people if we use that word from time to time!
Oh No You Didn’t! How to Master Spanish Negation and the Art of Saying “No”
Spanish and English Negations
English and Spanish share a lot of rules, but more often than not it’s their differences that stand out between them. Negation isn’t an exception, and there are a couple of things you should take into account when studying la negación en español.
1. Negation is simple in Spanish!
I’m talking of course about simple sentences and simple negation. We love to make things easy, and the principle of minimum effort is our most famous mantra. When transforming an affirmative sentence into negative, just add no in front of the verb and you’ll be ready to go:
Me gusta Polonia. (I like Poland.) → No me gusta Polonia. (I don’t like Poland.)
Queremos ir al cine. (We want to go to the cinema.) → No queremos ir al cine. (We don’t want to go to the cinema.)
Mis vecinos han traído regalos. (My neighbors have brought presents.) → Mis vecinos no han traído regalos. (My neighbors haven’t brought any presents.)
This is also true for questions. Have a look:
¿Te apetecería venir? (Would you like to come?) → ¿No te apetecería venir? (Wouldn’t you like to come?)
¿Te acuerdas de Michael? (Do you remember Michael?) → ¿No te acuerdas de Michael? (Don’t you remember Michael?)
So if you just remember to add no in front of the verb, you can say you’ve mastered 75 percent of Spanish negation!
2. Double negation is our daily bread
English doesn’t like double negation, but why? It’s so much fun to say no repeatedly! LOL.
Spanish on the other hand allows for double negatives and it’s even proud of them! You can get to know more about double negation in Spanish a few paragraphs below. In the meantime, I’m just going to show you some examples here:
No corro nunca (literally, I don’t run never → I never run.)
Matthew no corre tampoco (literally, Matthew doesn’t run neither. → Matthew doesn’t run either.)
Ella no quiere a nadie (literally, She doesn’t love no one. → She doesn’t love anyone.)
3. We can start a sentence with a negative word and we feel good about it
There’s no need for making inversions or adding auxiliary verbs. If you feel like starting a sentence with a negative word (even besides no), just do it, as long as it’s always preceding the verb. Remember that you can’t use no if you’ve started the statement with another negative word!
Nunca bebo té. (Never do I drink tea.)
Nada me gusta. (Nothing do I like.)
Nada puedo hacer. (Nothing can I do.)
Main Spanish Negation Words
Every language has its ways of making negations. There are many negation words in Spanish (as well as in English), but for the sake of space and time I’ll show you the most important ones.
Undoubtedly the most important negation word in any language, no is commonly used to negate the verb and you can use it to answer questions just by itself:
No bebo café por la tarde. (I don’t drink coffee in the afternoon.)
María no vendrá a la fiesta. (María is not coming to the party.)
El teléfono no funciona desde la semana pasada. (The phone hasn’t been working since last week.)
¿Quieres ir de compras? ¡No! (Do you want to go shopping? No!)
¿Quieres ir de compras? ¡No, no quiero! (Do you want to go shopping? No, I don’t!)
In the last example, notice the use of no twice followed by the main verb. You can’t use an auxiliary verb as you do in English (e.g. don’t). Maybe that’s why we Spaniards prefer to say just no).
Nada means nothing/anything, and it’s also very common in Spanish negative sentences. Here you have some examples:
No me apetece hacer nada hoy. (I don’t feel like doing anything today.)
No podemos creer nada de lo que dice. (We cannot believe anything of what he says.)
Siempre dices que no comprarás nada pero siempre acabas comprando algo. (You always say you won’t buy anything but you always end up buying something.)
Nada tiene sentido sin ti. (Nothing makes sense without you.)
Nada me gusta más que dar un paseo bajo la lluvia. (I don’t like anything more than going for a walk in the rain.)
It means no one/nobody, and it’s (obviously) used when talking about people!
No hay nadie aquí. Vámonos. (There’s nobody here. Let’s go.)
No quiero que nadie me vea así, por favor. (I don’t want anybody seeing me like this, please.)
Mi hermana no invitó a nadie para su boda. (My sister didn’t invite anybody to her wedding.)
Nadie sabe más que tú. (Nobody knows more than you do.)
Nadie puede enamorarse más de una vez en su vida. (No one can ever be in love more than once in their life.)
Meaning none/any/anyone, these negative words (except for ningún and ninguno) can function both as adjectives and as pronouns, depending on whether they’re followed by a noun or not, respectively.
Ningún and ninguno mean the same, but they are used in different contexts. While ningún will always be followed by a masculine noun, ninguno will always be a pronoun and won’t have any accompanying nouns right after it.
Have a look at these sentences:
No me gusta ningún libro (I don’t like any book).
No me gusta ninguno (I don’t like any [of them]).
Here you have some examples with the other 3 “siblings”:
Ninguna de estas pizzas tiene aceitunas. (None of these pizzas has olives.)
No tengo ningunos problemas. (I don’t have any problem.)
Ningunas noticias fueron buenas. (None of the news was good.)
Notice that ningunos, as shown in the second example, is less and less used in everyday Spanish. We normally use ningún plus a singular name in order to refer to a whole group. For example: No tengo ningún problema.)
Nunca / Jamás
Nunca and jamás mean never/never ever. They can be used interchangeably, but jamás seems to be a little more emphatic than nunca:
Nunca había visto a un chico tan guapo en mi vida. (I had never in my life seen such a handsome guy.)
No vengo nunca a esta ciudad porque es muy peligrosa. (I never come to this city because it is very dangerous.)
Mis hermanos nunca ven la tele. (My brothers never watch TV.)
Jamás pensé que llegarías a ser presidente. ¡Estoy más orgulloso que nunca! (I would have never thought you would become president. I am prouder than ever!).
Jamás les des de comer a los elefantes. (Never feed the elephants. / Do not ever feed the elephants.)
If you want more emphasis you can even use them together in a sentence:
Nunca jamás dejaré de amarte. (I will never ever stop loving you.)
¡No me vuelvas a mentir nunca jamás! (Don’t you never ever lie to me again!)
Meaning neither…nor. Ni normally works in pairs, but you can also see the combinations no…ni…ni, no…ni and even one ni by itself.
No quiero ni té ni café. Prefiero beber agua. (I want neither tea nor coffee. I prefer drinking water.)
Ni tenemos dinero ni queremos ayudarte. (We neither have money nor want to help you.)
Ni les gusta ni lo necesitan. (They neither like it nor need it.)
Abrió la puerta y no dijo ni una palabra. (He opened the door and didn’t say a word.)
¡Ni me toques! (Don’t even touch me! – Much stronger than ¡No me toques!)
Tampoco means also not/not either/neither and even too, when too is needed in a negative context. It operates in opposition to también (too/as well) as its negative counterpart. During the past 14 years I’ve heard a lot of Spanish students say también no instead of just tampoco, so if you really want to sound like a native avoid también no at all costs!!!
Here you have some grammatically correct examples:
El azul no me gusta tampoco. (I don’t like the blue one either.)
No tengo ninguna prisa tampoco. (I am not in any hurry either.)
Tu ordenador no funciona. El mío tampoco. (Your computer doesn’t work. Neither does mine.)
¿Tampoco pudiste ir a la fiesta? (You couldn’t go to the party either?)
Yo tampoco tengo nada que decir. (I, too, have nothing to say.)
Notice that you can use no…ni together with tampoco in order to intensify the negation:
No tengo un perro ni tampoco un gato. (I don’t have neither a dog nor a cat.)
Mis vecinos no son amables ni tampoco serviciales. (My neighbors are neither nice nor helpful.)
It means not yet, but it works a little differently in Spanish. You can say todavía no or no…todavía, and you normally start a sentence with one word in this pair. Have a look:
Todavía no he terminado de escribir el ensayo. (I haven’t finished writing the essay yet.)
Todavía no han publicado los resultados. (They haven’t published the results yet.)
No hemos llegado a Barcelona todavía. (We haven’t arrived to Barcelona yet.)
No puedes tomarte otra pastilla todavía. (You cannot have another pill yet.)
¿Habéis leído el libro? ¡Todavía no! (Have you read the book? Not yet!)
This last negative word means no longer/not anymore. It also appears in front of the verb (normally) and it can be separated and inverted (no…ya), although this option is much less common than ya no.
Ya no te quiero porque eres infiel. (I no longer love you because you are unfaithful.)
Ya no se puede fumar en este edificio. (It is no longer allowed to smoke inside this building.)
Pedro ya no sabe qué decir para que la gente le preste atención. (Pedro no longer knows what to say so that people pay attention to him.)
No podemos entregarlo ya. Es muy tarde. (We no longer can hand it in. It is too late.)
¿Todavía vives en Madrid? No, ya no. (Are you still living in Madrid? No, not anymore.)
All these words can function by themselves or keep each other company. In Spanish it’s perfectly OK to make a double or triple negation, and that’s what you’re going to learn about in the next section.
Double Negation in Spanish
Double negatives are very common in Spanish and completely acceptable!
In fact, I would even venture to say that most of the time (except when we just use the negative word no) you’ll find a double negation in a negative sentence in Spanish.
There’s of course the option of using only one negative word at the beginning of the sentence and saving ourselves of having to use the word no, but this is a very marked option and we tend to avoid it unless it’s necessary.
There are even occasions in Spanish when the word no isn’t even needed, and you can make your double negatives by using other negative words.
But in general, the rule for double negation is pretty simple: Use the word no in front of the verb, then later on in the sentence use a second negative word:
No como pasta nunca. (I never eat pasta.)
¿No te gusta correr nunca? (Don’t you ever like running?)
No he visto a nadie desde que llegué. (I haven’t seen anyone since I arrived.)
As I mentioned before, you can have double negations without even having to use the word no. In this case, you’ll always have another negative word starting the sentence:
Nadie dice nada. (Nobody says anything.)
Ninguno de estos libros es para nadie. (None of these books is for anybody.)
Nunca vemos a nadie en esta zona. (We never see anyone in this area.)
I just want you to remember 2 very important things:
1. If you have no in front of a verb, other negative words will have to go after the verb:
No quiero nada. (I don’t want anything.) — not no nada quiero.
2. If you start a sentence with a negative word different from no, you’re no longer allowed to use no in that sentence!
Nadie sabe nada. (Nobody knows anything.) — not nadie no sabe nada.
Bonus Track #1: 3 Negative Words in a Sentence
Oh, yes! Spanish even allows for triple negative! It’s so, so fun! Of course sometimes you’ll have an easier way to express the same thought, but give triple negation a try. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
The rules for triple negation are exactly the same we had with double negation:
No + verb + negation word + negation word, or
Negation word + (negation word) + (negation word) + verb + (negation word) + (negation word):
No bebemos nunca nada. (We never drink anything.)
Ellos tampoco beben nunca nada. (They never drink anything either.)
Nunca nadie come nada. (Nobody ever eats anything.)
Nunca nada ha sido tan fácil para nadie. (Nothing has ever been so easy for anyone.)
No quiero decirle nada a nadie. (I don’t want to say anything to anybody.)
Bonus Track #2: Craziness! 4 Negative Words in a Sentence
Franko, this is just getting crazy! I hope you’re kidding!
Well…no, I’m not! You can have 4 negative words in a Spanish sentence and be able to sleep without any kind of remorse. You can even be very proud of your level of Spanish if you get to master the art of quadruple negation.
Now, I must confess this kind of “mega negative” sentence isn’t very common in Spanish, and you really need to find the appropriate context and situation in order to use them, but once the moment is right, do not hesitate—quadruple-negate to the four winds and let those compliments pour down!
Yo no hablo con nadie nunca tampoco. (I, too, don’t talk to anybody ever.)
Ellos no necesitan nada de nadie nunca. (They never need anything from anybody.)
Nadie nunca va a ningún lugar tampoco. (Nobody ever goes anywhere either.)
I promised myself I would stop, but do you want to see a 5-negative-word sentence? Here you have it!
Mi hermana no acepta nunca nada de nadie tampoco. (My sister never accepts anything from anybody ever either.)
Do you feel able to translate it now? Would you dare to create a 6-negative sentence? If so, then, Jesus! You’re no doubt the Master of Negation! Good for you if you’ve survived up until here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. See you very soon with more crazy grammar stuff!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.