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Using Negative Verbs in Spanish Sentences

written by: djthyberg • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 8/2/2012

An important thing to learn early on when studying Spanish is how to negate a sentence with 'no' (not). Here, we will look at the basic formation of negative verbs. Then we examine a few negative variants, such as never, nobody, and nothing. We show examples with 'no', 'nunca', 'nadie' and 'nada'

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    Defining a Negative Verb

    When you first start to learn Spanish, all the focus is on basic verbs and saying what you or other people ARE doing. This is the logical place to begin, but you will soon realize that you need to learn how to communicate what people are NOT doing. Negative verb structure in Spanish is easy to learn, and it will allow you to express yourself with more clarity. After having learned how to make affirmative statements, you will now be able to negate statements, or say what you are NOT doing or what you DO NOT want to do.

    This article will teach you some basic patterns for negating your sentences, and letting people know you disagree or do not want to do something.

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    Basic Structure

    Verb negatives in English are formed with the adverb "not". For example, the statement "You are happy" becomes a negative when we say "You are NOT happy". Spanish follows the same basic pattern, except that the order of the verb and the negative are reversed. The Spanish adverb "no" is placed right before the conjugated verb in Spanish. So, the basic structure we have for a negative sentence in Spanish is as follows:

    Subject + no + verb

    i.e. "Yo no sé" (I don't know)

    Notice that in Spanish, "no" takes the place of "not" in English.

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    Additional Negatives

    There are other words besides "no" in Spanish that can be used to form negative statements. Here, we will focus on just three: the "adverb "nunca" (never), the pronoun "nadie" (nobody/no one), and the pronoun "nada" (nothing). Here is the basic structure when using each of these words:

    1. Nunca

    In Spanish, the adverb "nunca" can be inserted both before or after the verb phrase or at the end of the sentence. If this adverb appears in any place besides in front of the conjugated verb, then the adverb "no" has to be placed before the conjugated verb.

    Subject + nunca + verb

    i.e. "Ellos nunca salen" (They never go out)

    Subject + no + verb + nunca

    or "Ellos no salen nunca" (They never go out)

    2. Nadie

    The pronoun "nadie" means "nobody" or "no one". You can use this word to start a negative phrase. If the pronoun "nadie" appears in a position after the conjugated verb, then the adverb "no" must also be placed before the conjugated verb.

    nadie + verb + ...

    i.e. "Nadie sabe la respuesta" (Nobody knows the answer)

    no + verb + nadie

    or "No habla con nadie" (He does not speak with anyone)

    3. Nada

    When using the pronoun "nada", it is possible to start a negative phrase. You can also use the adverb "no". It can be inserted before the conjugated verb.

    nada + verb

    i.e. "Nada cambia" (Nothing changes)

    no + verb + nada

    or "No hay nada" (There is nothing, There isn't anything)

    or "No tengo nada" (I don't have anything)

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    More Examples

    Here are a few examples of the different patterns, along with their English translations:

    Yo no hablo español. (I don't speak Spanish)

    Tu no comes fruta. (You don't eat fruit)

    No veo nada. (I don't see anything)

    Yo no quiero. (I don't want to)

    Rodrigo nunca estudia. (Rodrigo never studies)

    Nadie sabe la respuesta. (No one knows the answer)

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    Final Comments

    We see the previously mentioned structures in each of these examples. These are just a few of the more common patterns for constructing negative statements in Spanish. As you study more verb tenses and moods, you will discover additional ways to make more advanced negative statements. Follow this basic format, and you will be able to make yourself understood when speaking in the negative.

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