“Don’t do it!”
“I didn’t hear you!”
“We aren’t going!”
People make negative statements all the time. To forbid things, to talk about what didn’t happen, what isn’t going to happen, or what never ever happens.
Today, I am going to talk about making negations and using negative words in Spanish. You will quickly realize how easy Spanish negations are in general and how tricky they can get in some instances.
4 Key Spanish Negation Rules:
If you want to master Spanish negation rules, keep in mind the following tips:
- In Spanish, you don’t need any auxiliaries to make negative statements.
- Most times, two negative words are needed.
- To express prohibitions, you use the subjunctive mood.
- Question tags have a different form.
If these rules have too many grammar concepts in them, don’t worry. I will do my best to explain each and every one of them.
But before, let’s make a list of the most important negative words in Spanish.
Essential Spanish Negative Words
- 🇪🇸 no – 🇬🇧 no, not, don’t, doesn’t, didn’t, won’t, etc.
- 🇪🇸 nadie – 🇬🇧 nobody, no one
- 🇪🇸 nada – 🇬🇧 nothing
- 🇪🇸 nunca / jamás – 🇬🇧 never
- 🇪🇸 ningún + masculine noun (e.g. avión, dinero, tiempo) = 🇬🇧 no (plane, money, time)
- 🇪🇸 ninguna + feminine noun (e.g. flor, mujer, canción) = 🇬🇧 no (flower, woman, song)
- 🇪🇸 ningún lado / ninguna parte – 🇬🇧 nowhere
Great! With the four rules and the most critical vocabulary, we are ready to start.
Rule #1 – No Auxiliaries
That’s right. Spanish doesn’t use auxiliaries, which is one of the main differences it has with English grammar.
To make a negative sentence, you only need the particle NO + the verb.
Piece of cake, isn’t it?
Well, it is a piece of cake as long as you know how to handle different tenses and verb conjugations.
All the information about what person you are referring to and what tense you are using is in the verb, so be extra careful not to mix up things.
Once you’ve mastered the verbs and know their conjugation patterns, making negative statements will feel like a no-brainer. Look:
🇪🇸 No soy peruano.
🇬🇧 I am not Peruvian.
🇪🇸No como carne.
🇬🇧 I don’t eat meat.
🇪🇸 Juan no trabaja acá.
🇬🇧 Juan doesn’t work here.
🇪🇸 No fuimos al cine.
🇬🇧 We didn’t go to the movies.
🇪🇸 No puedo ayudarte.
🇬🇧 I can’t help you.
🇪🇸 No te lo diré.
🇬🇧 I won’t tell you.
🇪🇸 No me gustaría estar en tus zapatos.
🇬🇧 I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes.
🇪🇸 No me he sentido muy bien últimamente.
🇬🇧 I haven’t felt very well lately.
🇪🇸 No sabía que eras el hermano de Carlos.
🇬🇧 I didn’t know you were Carlos’s brother.
Which one is easier: having to remember about the correct auxiliary or learning how to conjugate verbs? I am not so sure.
RULE #2 – Double Negation vs. Single Negation
OK, this one is not so easy, so stay focused.
Let’s compare these two sentences:
- Tú no llegas tarde nunca.
- Tú nunca llegas tarde.
Both sentences translate exactly the same:
You never come late.
So, why are there two possibilities in Spanish, and how do they differ from each other?
If you take a careful look, you’ll notice that sentence 1 has two negative elements: the particle NO and the word NUNCA, which appears after the verb.
Sentence 2, however, has only one negative element – NUNCA – and it comes before the verb.
What conclusion can we draw from these examples?
When you start your sentence in Spanish with a negative verb, you also require another negative element, such as NUNCA; NADIE; NADA; NINGÚN, etc.
This rule is different from English, which uses only one negative element.
🇪🇸 No hay nadie en la casa.
🇬🇧 There is nobody at home. – negative pronoun.
🇬🇧 There isn’t anybody at home. – negative verb.
🇪🇸 No tengo nada que decirte
🇬🇧 I have nothing to tell you – negative pronoun.
🇬🇧 I don’t have anything to tell you – negative auxiliary.
🇪🇸 No conozco a ningún informático.
🇬🇧 I know no IT engineer – negative particle.
🇬🇧 I don’t know any IT engineers. – negative auxiliary.
🇪🇸 No vamos a viajar a ninguna parte.
🇬🇧 We are going to travel nowhere – negative pronoun.
🇬🇧 We aren’t going to travel anywhere – negative auxiliary.
🇪🇸 No me ayudas nunca.
🇬🇧 You never help me. – negative adverb.
🇬🇧 You don’t ever help me. – negative auxiliary.
However, when the negative word comes before the verb, it is the only negative element of the sentence, just like in English:
🇪🇸 Tú nunca me ayudas.
🇬🇧 You never help me.
🇪🇸 Nadie vive aquí.
🇬🇧 Nobody lives here.
🇪🇸 Nada de lo que yo cocino te gusta.
🇬🇧 You like nothing I cook.
Why is there no need for the verb to take up the negative form here? I believe it has to do with the logical and emotional stress you put on NADIE, NADA, or NUNCA, which makes them extra strong.
RULE # 3 – Negative Imperative Uses the Subjunctive Mood
There is nothing (grammatically) easier in English than giving orders.
Don’t do that!
All you need is the infinitive of a verb, and – if you want to make it negative – the auxiliary DON’T.
I wish the Spanish imperative form were so easy. Unfortunately, telling people not to do certain things will have you sweat a little. At least in the beginning?
Have you ever heard of the subjunctive mood? It wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t, as in English, it is practically non-existent.
In Spanish, however, it is used quite frequently.
I will not explain how to create this verbal form, as this is a whole different topic. I will just limit myself to pointing out how to find it in Spanish verb conjugation tables.
The form framed in blue – VAYAS – is the present subjunctive mood for the pronoun TÚ – and it is precisely what we need to make negative imperative statements.
🇪🇸 ¡No te vayas!
🇬🇧 Don’t go!
In the same way, you will tell people not to do the following things:
🇪🇸 ¡No te cases con él!
🇬🇧 Don’t marry him!
🇪🇸 ¡No me digas que te lo comiste todo!
🇬🇧 Don’t tell me you ate it all!
🇪🇸 ¡No seas así!
🇬🇧 Don’t be like that!
🇪🇸 ¡No te preocupes!
🇬🇧 Don’t worry!
🇪🇸 ¡No me hables!
🇬🇧 Don’t talk to me!
🇪🇸 ¡No se lo digas a nadie!
🇬🇧 Don’t tell anyone!
Let’s not forget, though, that the English YOU can be translated to Spanish not only as TÚ, but also USTED (formal singular), VOSOTROS (plural), and USTEDES (formal plural).
When choosing the right subjunctive form, make sure to pick the one that matches the addressee:
🇪🇸 ¡No se enoje (usted)!
🇬🇧 Don’t get angry!
🇪🇸 ¡No se apuren (ustedes)!
🇬🇧 Don’t hurry!
🇪🇸 ¡No me esperéis (vosotros)!
🇬🇧 Don’t wait for me!
RULE #4 – Question Tags In Spanish
I figure that after so much grammar, you are longing for something easy.
Fortunately, Spanish question tags are not difficult at all. Instead of worrying about the correct auxiliary, you just need to remember a few simple phrases:
- ¿no cierto? – when the main sentence is affirmative
- ¿o no? – when the main sentence is affirmative
- ¿o sí? – when the main sentence is negative
- ¿verdad? – no matter if the main sentence is negative or affirmative
Remember that the primary function of question tags is to obtain a reconfirmation of your initial statement. Just like in the examples below:
🇪🇸 Es un lindo día, ¿no cierto?
🇬🇧 It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
🇪🇸 Comes carne, ¿o no?
🇬🇧 You eat meat, don’t you?
🇪🇸 Nos conocimos en la fiesta de Año Nuevo, ¿no cierto?
🇬🇧 We met at the New Year’s party, didn’t we?
🇪🇸 Ustedes no se conocen, ¿o sí?
🇬🇧 You don’t know each other, do you?
🇪🇸 Aún no me has enviado el informe, ¿o sí?
🇬🇧 You haven’t sent me the report, have you?
MORE SPANISH NEGATIVE WORDS
To finish with, let’s see some more Spanish negations and negative words:
- 🇪🇸 tampoco – 🇬🇧 neither, not either
- 🇪🇸 ni…ni… – 🇬🇧 neither…nor…
- 🇪🇸 aún no / todavía no – 🇬🇧 not yet
- 🇪🇸 ya no – 🇬🇧 no longer
- 🇪🇸 casi no – 🇬🇧 almost no
- 🇪🇸 casi nadie – 🇬🇧 hardly anybody
- 🇪🇸 casi nada – 🇬🇧 hardly anything
- 🇪🇸 casi nunca – 🇬🇧 hardly ever
🇪🇸 Juan no viene a la fiesta. Miguel tampoco.
🇬🇧 Juan isn’t coming to the party. Neither is Miguel.
🇪🇸 Mi hermana no está feliz. Yo tampoco.
🇬🇧 My sister is not happy. Me neither.
🇪🇸 No trajiste ni huevos ni arroz. ¿Cómo puedes ser tan olvidadizo?
🇬🇧 You brought neither eggs nor rice. How can you be so forgetful!
🇪🇸 Aún no he terminado el informe. Se lo enviaré apenas esté listo.
🇬🇧 I haven’t finished the report yet. I’ll send it to you as soon as it is ready.
🇪🇸 No me has saludado por mi cumpleaños todavía.
🇬🇧 You haven’t said Happy Birthday to me yet.
🇪🇸 Ya no podemos esperar más. Tenemos que salir de inmediato.
🇬🇧 We can’t wait any longer. We have to leave right away.
🇪🇸 Parece que Pablo y Eugenia ya no son novios.
🇬🇧 It seems like Pablo and Eugenia are no longer dating.
🇪🇸 Invité a muchas personas pero no vino casi nadie.
🇬🇧 I invited many people, but almost no one came.
🇪🇸 Tomo vitamina C y por eso casi nunca me enfermo.
🇬🇧 I take vitamin C, which is why I hardly ever get sick.
🇪🇸 No queda casi nada de la torta.
🇬🇧 There is almost no cake left.