This article is aimed at helping you sort through the intricacies of the Spanish negation. It is not as strict or systemic as its English grammar counterpart, but there still are things to understand and remember.
Turning Positives to Negatives
Spanish affirmatives are as easy as English ones: match the form of the verb to the subject and – ¡ya está! – your statement is ready! E.g.:
- Ella es actriz.
She is an actress.
- Nosotros traducimos documentos legales al español.
We translate legal documents to Spanish.
To turn your affirmative sentence into a negative one, place the negative word no before the verb:
- Ella no es actriz.
She is not an actress.
- Nosotros no traducimos documentos legales al español.
We don’t translate legal documents to Spanish.
Consequently, if you need to give a negative answer to a question, start your reply with the negation no and then add the homonymous negative word before the verb as well. E.g.:
- ¿Es actriz?
Is she an actress?
- No. No es actriz.
No, she is not an actress.
- ¿ Está Maria enferma?
Is Maria ill?
- No. Maria no está enferma.
No, Maria is not ill.
When there is a need to add a Spanish equivalent to “some, “any”, or “no” to your utterance, you can rely on this list of some-, any-, and no-words.
Also, you need to keep several grammar rules in mind.
The first one is that, just like in English, you can just do with a single negative word to express your negation. Place it alone immediately before the verb and discard the word no. E.g.:
- Nadie descansa a once de la mañana.
Nobody has a rest at 11 a.m.
- Nunca fumo.
I never smoke.
- No canto. – Tampoco canto.
I don’t sing. – I don’t sing either.
The second rule implies that if a negative word is placed AFTER the verb that is negated, then the negation no should be placed before the said verb. In short, Spanish allows double negation. E.g.:
- No descansa nadie a once de la mañana.
- No fumo nunca.
- No canto. – No canto tampoco.
In fact, you can come across as many as three negative words in a single sentence! Check it out:
- No le gusta nada nunca.
He never likes anything.
- No bebo nada. – No bebo nada tampoco.
I don’t drink anything. – I don’t drink anything either.
If you are still unimpressed, you’ll be now: four negative words in a single Spanish sentence are not a rare occasion! E.g.:
- Él no bebe nada nunca tampoco.
He doesn’t ever drink anything either.
Keeping Negatives and Affirmatives apart
One more thing you should memorize is that while in English we can and should use negative AND affirmative words in a single sentence to avoid doubling the negations, the Spanish language does not allow it. Compare:
- English: I don’t (-) drink anything (+). or I drink (+) nothing (-).
- Spanish: No(-) bebo nada(-).
It is not allowed to use algo (anything) in place of nada.
Algunos and Ninguno
The Spanish words alguno meaning “some/any”, “something/anything” and ninguno meaning “no”, “nothing” are a bit tricky. First, both alguno and ninguno get rid of their final vowel when used in their masculine singular form; they get an accented ú instead:
- ¿Hay algún cantante que te gusta especialmente? – No. No me gusta ningún cantante en particular.
Is there any singer you like especially? – No. I don’t like any singer in particular.
When used in replies to questions, ninguno/a is usually used in its singular form, even if in the initial question the corresponding word was used in its plural form. E.g.:
- ¿Tienes algunas canciones favoritas? – No, no me gusta ninguna.
Do you have favorite songs? – No, I don’t like any.
The only case when ninguno/a is used in its plural form is when it has to match a word that does not have a singular form like las tijeras (scissors), etc.
- Tengo tres tijeras, pero ningunas son afiladas.
I have three pairs of scissors, but none is sharp.
That would be all about negations in Spanish. Now it’s time to put your freshly acquired knowledge to use!