A -- Grammar Explanations and Phrases > NEGATIVES AND DOUBLE NEGATIVES > Flashcards


"I can't get no satisfaction." "I don't know nobody." "You haven't seen nothing yet." Because they contain double negatives, the above English sentences are considered substandard (although, of course, people often talk like that in real life).

But there's no such prohibition in Spanish. In fact, in many cases, use of double negatives is required. Even triple negatives are possible.


Grammarians may tell you that English doesn't use double negatives because the two negatives contradict each other and make a positive. (In other words, "I don't know nobody" is the same as saying "I know somebody.")

But negatives aren't viewed that way in Spanish — the negatives are seen as reinforcing rather than contradicting each other. Although sometimes the second negative is used to make a stronger statement just as it is in substandard English, in most cases it is merely part of the structure of the sentence.


In Spanish, the most common negative terms in addition to no (no, not) are apenas (barely, scarcely, hardly), jamás (never), nadie (nobody), ni (neither, not), ninguno (none, no), ni siquiera (not even), nunca (never), and tampoco (not even, nor, neither).

Most of these terms in Spanish have a corresponding affirmative term: algo (something), alguien (somebody), alguno (some), siempre (always), también (also), and siquiera (at least).


General rule: As a general rule, a sentence can't include both affirmative and negative terms; where one element of a sentence (subject, verb, object) includes a negative term, so should the other elements that need other such terms. Also, with the exception of nunca jamás (see below), not more than one negative term is used before the verb.

By following these rules, it is possible to have one, two or three negatives in a sentence, as in the following examples:


She barely eats.

Apenas come.


She barely eats anything.

Apenas come nada.


I don't have any.

No tengo ninguno.


Nobody knows that.

Nadie sabe eso.


I never smoke.

Jamás fumo.


She didn't eat either.

Tampoco comió.


She didn't eat anything either.

Tampoco comió nada.


He didn't speak.

No habló.


He said nothing.

No dijo nada.


He didn't say anything to anybody.

No le dijo nada a nadie.


I'm not buying any.

No compro ninguno.


She never buys anything for anybody.

Nunca le compra nada a nadie.


He doesn't even eat bread.

No come ni siquiera pan.


He doesn't even eat bread.

Ni siquiera come pan.


Note that in some cases (such as the final two examples in the chart) it is possible to say the same thing in more than one way, with either one negative or two. Generally, that is because in Spanish the subject can come before or after the verb; where a negative subject comes before the verb, a no is not needed with the verb. In this example, "ni siquiera no come pan" would not be standard Spanish. There generally isn't much difference in meaning between using one negative or two.

Note also that various translations to English are possible. Tampoco comió could be translated not only as "she didn't eat either" but also as "neither did she eat."

When a verb is used with a negative term, it isn't always necessary to use a negative term after the verb. For example, "No tengo amigos" (I don't have friends) is grammatically acceptable. What you shouldn't do, though, is use an affirmative term for emphasis. If you want to say "I don't have any friends," use a negative term after the verb: No tengo ningún amigo.


Other uses of double negatives

There are at least two other cases where a double negative is used for added emphasis:


Nada as an adverb: When used as an adverb in a negative sentence, nada usually can be translated as "at all."
No ayuda nada, he doesn't help at all.
No usa nada los ordenadores, he doesn't use computers at all.

Nunca jamás: When these two negatives meaning "never" are used together, they reinforce each other.

Nunca jamás vuelo. I never, ever fly.
Dijo el cuervo, "nunca jamás". Quoth the raven, "nevermore."


Although it is often stated that the Spanish conjunction ni is the equivalent of the English "nor," it is used in different ways than the English word.

Following are some examples of its usage. In many cases in the English translations below "nor" is used for clarity, even though it is common in English to use "or" instead. Note also the frequent use in these examples of the double negative, which is often required in Spanish.


As the equivalent of "nor":

In such cases it follows a verb that is preceded by no or another negation such as nunca or jamás:


She doesn't want to hear nor speak about her son.

No quiere oír ni hablar de su hijo.


I can't see it nor download it.

No puedo encontrarlo ni descargarlo.


I didn't buy popcorn nor soft drinks.

No compré palomitas ni refrescos.


"Ni ... ni meaning "neither ... nor":

A pair of nis can be used as the equivalent of "neither ... nor":


Neither its creators nor its administrators are responsible.

Ni sus creadores ni administradores son responsables.


It will be neither more nor less true.

Será ni más ni menos verdadero.


Neither we nor the club have received anything.

Ni nosotros ni el club hemos recibido nada.


As the equivalent of "neither/nor" in a series:

In English, it is common to use one "nor" (or one "or" in a negative sentence) to apply to a series of three or more. In Spanish, however, ni typically precedes each item in the series:


You give me neither love, money, jewels nor anything.

No me dabas amor, ni dinero, ni joyas ni nada.


There will be neither death, mourning, tears nor pain.

Ya no habrá muerte, ni luto, ni llanto, ni dolor.


To mean "not even":

With this meaning, the form ni siquiera is usually used, although the siquiera is usually optional. Ni siquiera is the more emphatic form:


We didn't even imagine it.

Ni (siquiera) lo imaginábamos.


Not even the supermodel is immune to the ravages of time.

Ni (siquiera) la supermodelo es inmune a los estragos del tiempo.


Not even Einstein was capable of understanding it.

Ni (siquiera) Einstein era capaz de entenderlo.


I don't have even one coin.

No tengo ni (siquiera) una moneda.


Changing a Spanish sentence to a negative can be as easy as placing no before the main verb.

But Spanish is different than English in that Spanish can require the use of the double negative under some circumstances.


In Spanish, the most common negative word is no, which can be used as an adverb or adjective. As an adverb negating a sentence, it always comes immediately before the verb, unless the verb is preceded by an object, in which case it comes immediately before the object.

In Spanish, the most common negative word is no, which can be used as an adverb or adjective. As an adverb negating a sentence, it always comes immediately before the verb, unless the verb is preceded by an object, in which case it comes immediately before the object.


(I am not eating.)

No como.


She doesn't want to go downtown.

No quiere ir al centro.


I don't want it.

No lo quiero.


Don't you like the bicycle?

¿No te gusta la bicicleta?


When no is used as an adjective, or as an adverb modifying an adjective or other adverb, it typically is the equivalent of the English "not" or of a prefix such as "non."

In those cases, it comes immediately before the word it modifies. Note that while no is sometimes used to mean "not" in this way, this use isn't terribly common, and usually other words or sentence constructions are used.


The senator is for the policy of nonviolence.

El senador está por la política de la no violencia.


That doctor is unprincipled.

Ese doctor es sin principios.


Spanish also has several negative words that are frequently used.

They include:
nada (nothing),
nadie (nobody, no one),
ninguno (none),
nunca (never),
jamás (never).
Ninguno, depending on its usage, also comes in the forms ningún, ninguna, ningunos and ningunas, although the plural forms are seldom used.


Nobody wants to leave.

Nadie quiere salir.


No house has more televisions than mine.

Ninguna casa tiene más televisores que la mía.


We never drink beer

Nunca bebemos la cerveza.


I never see you.

Jamás te veo.


One aspect of Spanish that may seem unusual to English speakers is the use of the double negative. If one of the negative words listed above (such as nada or nadie) is used after the verb,

- a negative (often no) also must be used before the verb. Such a usage is not considered redundant. When translating to English, you shouldn't translate both negatives as negatives.


(I don't know anything, or I know nothing.)

No sé nada.


I don't know anybody, or I know nobody.

No conozco a nadie.


Nothing matters to anybody.

A nadie le importa nada. (Nothing matters to anybody.)