Negative words in Spanish, and more specifically, negative sentences in Spanish don’t quite sound right in English.
What I mean is that when you translate a negative Spanish sentence word-for-word to English, you’ll end up with something that doesn’t make sense.
For starters, unlike English, double negatives in Spanish are perfectly fine. In fact, they are the norm.
Then, you’ll find that plural nouns almost never occur in negative Spanish sentences, such as ‘no problems’ or ‘no questions’.
And, to see how strange it can get, I’ll show you how the Spanish translation of the word ‘some’ in phrases such as ‘some money’ or ‘some bread’ is quite different to English.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about negative sentences in Spanish including how to handle double negatives, plurals, how to ask questions, and how you need to carefully deal with mass and count nouns.
The main affirmative and negative words in Spanish: A quick reference
When you think about negation in Spanish, you’ll first need to decide whether you need to use one of the Spanish words below.
If you need to use ‘something’, ‘somebody’, ‘some’, ‘any’, ‘always’, or ‘also’ in a Spanish sentence or the negative equivalent, you’ll need work with one of the below Spanish negative pairs.
For each negative pair, there is a positive word in the left column with an associated negative word in the right column. You’ll have to flip between the words in each pair as you go between positive and negative sentences in Spanish.
But before we get to the detailed explanations, let’s next look at the general philosophy of forming negative sentences in Spanish.
Negative Sentences in Spanish: The general philosophy
If you don’t need one of the words in the previous section, negation in Spanish is quite straightforward.
If the idea is something simple like:
I don’t like cheese.
Then you can flip between a positive and negative version of the sentence by simply adding a ‘no’ as follows:
English: I like cheese.
Español: Me gusta el queso.
English: I don’t like cheese.
Español: No me gusta el queso.
Moreover, if someone asks you a question, and your response is negative you’ll need to use the word ‘no’ twice. The first time to answer the question, and the second time to negate the verb. This is because the Spanish language doesn’t have an equivalent of ‘don’t’. So, for example:
English: Do you like cheese?
Español: ¿Te gusta el queso?
English: No, I don’t like cheese.
Español: No, no me gusta el queso.
In contrast, if the sentence involves one of the words in the previous sentence, such as:
I don’t want any cheese.
Then now the translation get’s a little more challenging.
In order to translate this sentence, the first big concept you have to understand is double negatives don’t exist in Spanish!!
In fact, when you form a negative sentence in Spanish, every word in the sentence has to be negative.
He doesn’t want to speak to anybody ever.
In this sentence, both ‘ever’ and ‘anybody’ need to be in negative form in the Spanish version of this sentence. So the translation is:
No quiere hablar con nadie nunca.
Notice, you need to say nunca and nadie, which would make this sentence sound like ‘he doesn’t want to speak with nobody never’. Despite this sounding strange to an English natives ear, it is perfectly natural in Spanish.
At this point, I’m going to move onto the first negative pair, but note that I will return to ‘I don’t want any cheese’ later. You firstly need to read about alguno and then learn how it contrasts to algo de.
But, first let’s start with siempre and nunca.
Negative pair 1: Siempre y nunca
Probably the easiest negative pair to translate between English and Spanish is siempre (always) and nunca (never).
To start, you can use siempre to talk about what someone routinely does:
English: My father always eats at 6pm.
Español: Mi padre siempre come a las seis.
English: Alba always studies at night.
Español: Alba estudia siempre por la noche.
In the negative sense, you can use nunca to describe something that never happens:
English: I never go to the movies.
Español: Nunca voy al cine.
And remember that double negatives don’t exist, so this last example could also be:
No voy nunca al cine.
You can also use the word casi (almost) to describe something that almost never happens:
English: She almost never watches television.
Español: Ella casi nunca ve la televisión.
In addition, you can also use nunca outside of routine. You can use it talk about something that has never happened:
English: I have never been to Spain.
Español: Nunca he estado en España.
Before moving on, note that siempre and nunca can go before or after the verb, or at the start or end of the sentence.
And, if you use nunca at the start of a negative sentence, you should replace the ‘no’ with nunca as in the example above ‘nunca voy al cine‘.
Negative pair 2: Alguien y nadie
Once you have absorbed the idea that double negatives are perfectly fine in Spanish, the negative pair of alguien (someone) and nadie (nobody / no one) is probably the next easiest pair to translate between English and Spanish.
To start with the positive case, when the subject of a sentence is ‘someone’, you can simply use alguien as follows:
English: I think someone is calling me.
Español: Creo que alguien me llama.
English: There is someone over there that can help you.
Español: Hay alguien por ahí que te puede ayudar.
In addition, you should always ask questions in the positive sense:
English: Is there someone there?
Español: ¿Hay alguien ahí?
English: Does someone know English?
Español: ¿Alguien sabe inglés?
Next, when you want to say there isn’t anybody, or there is no one (or nobody), then the Spanish sentence needs look as follows:
English: There is nobody here.
English: There isn’t anybody here.
Español: No hay nadie aquí.
Note the two options in English. I will continue for the rest of the article showing both English options and their negative Spanish equivalent.
You also may want to ask a question where the word ‘someone’ is the object of the sentence (as opposed to the examples above where it was the subject):
English: Have you seen anybody?
Español: ¿Has visto a alguien?
English: No, I haven’t seen anybody.
English: No, I have seen no one.
Español: No, no he visto a nadie.
Notice you need to use the preposition ‘a’ when the object of the sentence is a person. You can listen to this podcast to learn more about the preposition ‘a‘.
Negative pair 3: Algo y nada
After the first two negative pairs, the remaining pairs tend to be more nuanced and difficult to translate. This is particularly true for algo and nada.
But first, let’s start with the simplest case: the direct translation of something and nothing.
English: I have something in my hand.
Español: Tengo algo en la mano.
Or in the negative case:
English: I haven’t got anything in my hand.
English: I’ve got nothing in my hand.
Español: No tengo nada en la mano.
Again, when you ask a question it is positive:
English: Did you say something?
Español: ¿Has dicho algo?
And in response:
English: No, I didn’t say anything.
English: No, I said nothing.
Español: No, no he dicho nada.
But, as in the case with nadie above, when nada is the subject of the sentence you don’t need to include a ‘no’. For example:
English: Nothing is impossible.
Español: Nada es imposible.
But you can also say:
No es imposible nada.
Here, although this sounds strange to an English native, the nada is still the subject of the sentence but because it comes later in the sentence you need the ‘no’ to make the verb negative.
The next thing you need to know with algo and nada is that you may have to use them instead of the next negative pair when considering count and mass nouns.
But, before we get to the details, let’s introduce alguno and ninguno.
Negative pair 4: Alguno y ninguno
The first thing you need to consider with alguno and ninguno, is that they act as adjectives or as pronouns.
This means they need to agree in gender and number with noun they modify or represent.
Here are your options:
|Before a male noun||Algún||Ningún|
|Replace a male noun||Alguno||Ninguno|
In addition, you’ll also need to know that if you use one of the above words in a Spanish sentence, you can only use them with count nouns.
So what is a count noun?
Simply, a count noun is a noun that can be counted. This includes things like people, places, ideas, questions, apples, or buildings.
If it sounds strange to say “There are 2 and ½ people here” or “I have 1 and ½ questions”, then you have a count noun, and you can use alguno and ninguno with the noun.
For example, starting with the positive case:
English: There are some things in the car.
Español: Hay algunas cosas en el coche.
English: Someday, I’m going to move to Spain.
Español: Algún día, me voy a mudar a España.
English: I haven’t spoken with all of the students in the class, only some.
Español: No he hablado con todos los estudiantes de la clase, sólo algunos.
Notice, in the last example, the first part of the sentence starts in the negative but finishes with the positive case. This example is a slight exception to the usual double negative rule because it is a positive idea (I have spoken with some of the students, just not all).
For the negative case of the last example you could say:
English: I haven’t spoken with any of the students in the class.
English: I have spoken with none of the students in the class.
Español: No he hablado con ninguno de los estudiantes de la clase.
Another important idea you need to consider is that ninguno is rarely found in plural form.
In other words, you won’t find a plural of a negative idea. You can think of ninguno in English as ‘none’ or ‘not even one’.
While writing this article I struggled to find an exception but there was one that you can consider:
English: I don’t have any desire to see him.
English: I have no desire to see him.
Español: No tengo ningunas ganas de verlo.
The reason you say ‘ningunas’ in plural in this example is to match ‘ganas’ in the expression ‘tener ganas de’, where ‘ganas‘ is always in plural form.
Similarly, in relation to plurals with this negative pair, if you are asking a question and you don’t know whether the answer will be a quantity of zero, one, or multiple, you should ask the question in singular.
English: Are there any questions?
Español: ¿Hay alguna pregunta?
And if the answer is there are ‘no’ questions or there are ‘none’, you would answer:
English: There aren’t any questions.
English: There are no questions.
Español: No hay ninguna pregunta.
Despite the fact that we say ‘there are no questions’ in plural in English, in Spanish, and perhaps more logically, you say there are none (ninguna) in singular.
Alguno vs algo de, ninguno vs nada de
Following on from the earlier point about count and mass nouns, we need to talk about an important choice you have to make with alguno and algo de, or ninguno and nada de.
I mentioned earlier that you must use alguno and ninguno with count nouns—chairs, pens, or mobile phones.
But, if you run into a mass noun, you can no longer use alguno or ninguno.
Again, put simply, mass nouns are nouns that can’t be counted. These include things like: bread, cheese, milk, water, or money.
Just like English, in Spanish, you can’t say ‘two money’ or ‘two moneys’ or ‘two milks’. You say ‘more milk’ or ‘less milk’, or ‘some milk’.
And, when you find yourself wanting to say ‘some bread’ or ‘some money’, the temptation might be to go for alguno but instead, you need to say ‘algo de’.
English: There is some bread on the table.
Español: Hay algo de pan en la mesa.
English: We don’t have any milk left.
English: We have no milk left.
Español: No nos queda nada de leche.
If you wanted to ask a question with a mass noun, you could ask (again in positive):
English: Do you have any money?
Español: ¿Tienes algo de dinero?
In the negative, you can respond with either of the following answers:
English: No, I don’t have any money.
English: No, I have no money.
Español: No, no tengo nada de dinero.
English: I don’t have any.
English: I have none.
Español: No tengo nada.
And, in the positive, you can respond with either of the following:
English: Yes, I have some money.
Español: Sí, tengo algo de dinero.
English: Yes, I have some.
Español: Sí, tengo algo.
I know this is challenging, the key here is to put it into practice as soon and as often as you can.
Negative pair 5: Y, o, ni
Instead of a negative pair, this category might make more sense if you consider it to be a negative trio consisting of ‘y’, ‘o’ and ‘ni’.
Moreover, sometimes ‘ni’ (neither, nor) will be the negative equivalent ‘y’ (and), and sometimes ‘o’ (or).
For example, if someone asked you this:
English: Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Español: ¿Prefieres café o té?
And you didn’t like either, you could say:
English: I don’t like coffee or tea.
English: I like neither coffee nor tea.
Español: No me gustan (ni) el café ni el té.
Here you can see that ni is used in the negative response to an ‘or’ question. I have also put the first ni in brackets as it is completely optional in this sentence.
In contrast, a positive example with ‘y’ could be:
English: Rocío, Alex and Luis want to go to the park.
Español: Rocío, Alex y Luis quieren ir al parque.
The negative equivalent would be:
English: Rocío, Alex, and Luis don’t want to go to the park.
English: Neither Rocío nor Alex nor Luis want to go to the park.
Español: Ni Rocío ni Alex ni Luis quieren ir al parque.
Notice here that, like the example above with nunca at the start of the sentence, a ‘no’ is not required to negate the sentence because ni is there instead.
Negative pair 6: También y tampoco
In general, también (also, too) and tampoco (neither) don’t cause too many headaches for Spanish students. But, there is one trick you need to be careful with around verbs like gustar.
Firstly, the normal positive situation is as follows, if someone says:
English: I want a glass of water.
Español: Quiero un vaso de agua.
If you, too, wanted a glass of water, you could say:
English: Me too.
Español: Yo también.
English: I want a glass of water as well.
Español: Quiero un vaso de agua también.
In the negative case, if someone says:
English: I don’t remember her name.
Español: No recuerdo su nombre.
If you also didn’t remember her name, you could say:
English: Me neither.
Español: Yo tampoco.
English: I don’t remember her name either.
English: Neither do I remember her name.
Español: No recuerdo su nombre tampoco.
Let’s look at the tricky case in the next section.
Yo también vs a mi también, yo tampoco vs a mi tampoco
Now for the situation where you use a verb like gustar.
Consider the following positive sentence:
English: The topic is very interesting to me.
Español: Me interesa mucho el tema.
If you are also interested in the topic, you should say:
English: Me too.
Español: A mi también.
Here you need ‘a mi‘ because the construction of sentences with verbs like gustar calls for it.
When you use a verb like gustar, you are really saying:
English: To me it interests.
Español: A mi me interesa.
So when you agree with the idea, you keep the ‘a mi‘ and swap out the rest of the sentence for también:
English: Me too.
Español: A mi también.
English: It interests me too.
Español: A mi me interesa también.
In the negative case, someone could say:
English: I don’t like vegetables.
Español: No me gustan las verduras.
If you agree, then you should say:
English: Me neither.
Español: A mi tampoco.
English: I don’t like vegetables either.
English: Neither do I like vegetables.
Español: A mi no me gustan las verduras tampoco.
How to think about con and sin
Before concluding this guide, let’s discuss one last idea that could cause confusion around this topic.
Is con and sin a negative pair?
You might be tempted to think of sin as the negative version of con. But, these two words are best thought of as two distinct and almost unrelated concepts.
You can use con to describe a combination or addition of items, whereas you should use sin when you want to describe the removal of an item from a place where it may normally be.
English: I want a soft drink without ice.
Español: Quiero un refresco sin hielo.
English: I prefer paella without seafood.
Español: Prefiero paella sin marisco.
Both of these sentences are positive and work perfectly well with sin (which could be thought of as the negative word).
If you were only to use con in positive sentences, you wouldn’t be able to order a soft drink without ice or paella without seafood.
English: He doesn’t want to speak with anybody.
English: He wants to speak with no one.
Español: Él no quiere hablar con nadie.
Here, if you were to change con to sin, the idea of ‘not wanting to speak without anybody’ results in a nonsensical sentence.
So, again, it’s important to think of con and sin as separate words that can each appear in both positive and negative sentences.
Negation in Spanish is a big topic.
And, a lot of the structures for negative Spanish sentences don’t translate well to English.
So, my challenge to you is to ask yourself this question: “How can I remember this?”
How can you take the knowledge from this article and put it in your long-term memory? What can you do to help it stick? And what works best for you when it comes to memorising new Spanish theory?
And, lastly, after reading this, how else can you form sentences using affirmative and negative words in Spanish?