Spanish Grammar Guide

Negation (e.g.: Yo no comprendo.)

An Overview of Spanish Negation:

In writing, negative sentences have the following general structure: no + conjugated verb, e.g.: Yo no voy nunca a la playa. Negation is usually marked by no before the verb and is also marked on any words that follow the verb that have negative forms (nada, nadie, ninguno, nunca, tampoco), creating sentences that have double negation, e.g.: No comprendo nada, ni conozco a nadie allí. This is unlike English that does not use double negatives, at least in standard varieties, e.g. "*I don't understand nothing."

Negation can also be marked by any of the negative words (nada, nadie, ninguno, nunca) without the use of no, e.g.: Yo nunca voy a la playa. In these cases, the negative word MUST precede the verb. If it does not precede the verb, you must also use no before the verb, ie. there is usually a negative word before the verb in negative sentences of Spanish, e.g.:

  • Nadie vino a la fiesta. OR No vino nadie a la fiesta. NOT Vino nadie a la fiesta.
  • Nada dijo el señor. OR No dijo nada el señor. NOT Dijo nada el señor.
  • Nunca la había visto. OR No la había visto nunca. NOT La había visto nunca.


The following table shows the Spanish words that have both affirmative and negative forms. Remember if the sentence is already negated, by no before the verb for example, any of the words from the table that appear must be in their negative form. Remember not to translate directly from English because where English uses an affirmative form, Spanish often uses a negative form, e.g.: No vi a nadie. "I didn't see anybody." vs. non-standard "*I didn't see nobody."

Affirmative form Negative form
algo "something/anything" nada "nothing" 
alguien "somebody/anybody"  nadie "nobody"
siempre "always" nunca/jamás "never"
algún/alguno/a(s) "some/any"  ningún/ninguno/a(s) "no/none"
o "or" ni "nor"
también "also" tampoco "neither/nor"

 

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Points to keep in mind

  • Negation with pensar and creer triggers the use of subjunctive in the subordinate clause, e.g.: No pienso que él hable español because the speaker has implied doubt.
  • Negation occurs frequently in the imperative mood, which is also expressed in subjunctive, e.g.: No fumen ni tomen alcohol. The exception to the use of subjunctive in the imperative is the affirmative tú commands, which are in indicative or have special forms, e.g.: Por favor, habla a mi celular, pero no hables a mi casa. 
  • When pronominal verbs are negated, no is placed BEFORE the pronouns and the verb, e.g.: No me gusta nada esa música. No se la voy a pasar a mi hermano.
  • When answering questions, remember to repeat sí/no twice in complete answers, e.g.: ¿Lo has visto hoy? Sí, sí lo he visto OR No, no lo he visto. These kinds of questions can be answered with just a single sí/no, e.g.: ¿Lo has visto?  OR No.
  • No is also used as a tag question to ask for confirmation, e.g.: Tú hablas francés, ¿no?
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