It is time for another small digression away from verbs, just to let you know that there are other things to learn! We are going to learn three negative words; that is, the words that mean ‘never’, ‘no-one’ and ‘nothing’.
These are as follows:
Never is nunca
No-one is nadie
Nothing is nada
Well that was easily done! However, as usual we need to look at them in a bit more detail because they are not used in exactly the same way in Spanish as they are in English.
The first thing to realize is that in Spanish we can use a ‘double negative’. For example, in English it is incorrect to say something like “I don’t say nothing”, or “I don’t see no-one”. We got told off for these kinds of things as children and told that if you say “I didn’t say nothing”, that means you said something, because two negatives make a positive.
Well, in Spanish this isn’t the case.
We say “No digo nada” – “I don’t say anything” and “No veo a nadie” – “I don’t see anybody”. This means that the words ‘anything’, ‘anybody’ and in fact the word ‘any’ itself in most cases have no real translation into Spanish.
There are a few very common phrases that use this double negative. One is “No pasa nada” which we say as a response to an apology when we want to reassure someone that there isn’t a problem. When someone is struggling to understand something which doesn’t make sense, you may hear them exclaim “No entiendo nada” – “I don’t understand anything!”
The word ‘nunca’ works in exactly the same way.
“No voy nunca al cine.” – “I never go to the cinema.”
“No juego nunca al golf.” – “I never play golf.”
However, (the second big however in this article!), if we change the word order round of our sentences and put the ‘nunca’, ‘nadie’ or ‘nada’ first, we end up with only one negative word again.
For example – “Nunca voy al cine.”, “Nunca juego al golf.”
“No pasa nada” is more of a set phrase that doesn’t change in any way, although we could say “Nada pasa en este pueblo.” – “Nothing happens in this village.”
When we put the negative word at the beginning of a sentence we do so for the sake of emphasis.
“No voy al cine nunca.” is simply a statement of fact, whereas “Nunca voy al cine.” sounds more like a strong complaint or strong statement against visiting cinemas!
There is another way of emphasizing the idea of ‘never’ which would translate for us as ‘never ever’ or ‘never more’ and that is ‘nunca jamás’. Peter Pan, who you will remember lived (or lives, I beg your pardon) in Never Never Land, in Spanish lives in “El País de Nunca Jamás”.
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.