Unit 7: Pronouns (Part 2), introduction to the preterit, and comparisons

7.3 Negatives, Positives and Indefinite Words

The following are the Spanish negative words and their logical opposites:

nada nothing
algo something
nadie no one, nobody
alguien someone, somebody
nunca, jamás* never
siempre always
ninguno** no (adjective)
alguno** some, a few
tampoco neither (not…either), nor
también also
ni…ni neither (not…either), nor
o…o either…or

*These two words are synonymous, but jamás is the slightly stronger and less frequent of the two.

**Ninguno becomes ningún and alguno, algún, before a masculine singular noun. (See section 10.3)

Unlike no (when meaning “not” [versus “no,” opposite of “yes”]), the above negatives are all considered “strong” negatives. As such, they have two possibilities of placement: they may be see before the main verb, or after the main verb when no precedes it. Be aware that two negatives (the “double” negative) do not cancel each other out to form a positive statement. The meaning remains the same regardless of position and the only subtlety is that the placement of a “strong” negative before the verb tends to be more emphatic.

Nunca voy. I never go. (I don’t ever go.)
No voy nunca. I never go.
Nada dice. She says nothing. (She doesn’t say anything.)
No dice nada. She says nothing.

Spanish may employ three negatives and, in theory, an infinite number of them, without their ever canceling each other out:

Ella no dice nada nunca. She never says anything.
No va a la playa con nadie tampoco. Nor does he ever go to the beach with anyone.

Note that the English translation of negatives that normally mean “nothing,” “no one” and “never” becomes “anything,” “anyone,” and “ever” when another negative is already present, as English does not permit a double negative without changing the meaning of the sentence.

¡Ojo! Jamás can mean “ever” as well as “never.” In a question it means “ever”; in a declarative statement it means “never”:

¿Jamás va Ud. a esa tienda? Do you ever go to that store?
No voy allí jamás (nunca). I never go there.

Alguna vez (literally, “sometime”) is also best translated as “ever” in a question:

¿Vienes alguna vez a la capital? Do you ever come to the capital?

¡Ojo! Be aware that alguno changes meaning when it comes after the noun and when there is a preceding negative in the sentence. It then takes on an opposite, strong negative meaning:

No dejan propina alguna. They don’t leave any tip at all.
¿No tienes dinero alguno? Don’t you have any money at all?


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