A Guide to Double Negatives in Spanish
“We don’t need no education.”
Did you know that one of the most famous lyrics in the history of rock is grammatically incorrect?
What a bummer, right?
However, if Pink Floyd were a Spanish band suddenly this problem would simply go away.
Because in English double negatives aren’t considered correct, but we love double negatives in Spanish!
In today’s post, we’ll explore the weird but fascinating universe of double negatives in Spanish. If you’re not sure what’s a double negative, don’t worry we’ll start there. Then, we’ll discuss why double negatives are accepted in Spanish but not in English, and finally we’ll learn how to form your own double negatives in Spanish.
Forget about what Pink Floyd says, we do need education.
What’s a Double Negative?
According to the Oxford Learner’s dictionary a double negative is “a negative statement containing two negative words.” For example, that famous phrase from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick on the Wall”:
We don’t need no education.
The statement is negative because what they’re expressing is that education is not needed. To say this, the legendary British band uses two negative words: “don’t” and “no.”
However, Oxford also tells us that “this use is not considered correct in standard English.”
Meaning that Roger Waters may be a great musician, but not so great in grammar. Apparently, this is a common trait among legendary musicians:
“I can’t get no satisfaction.” Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones.
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” Bill Withers (that song from the “Notting Hill” film).
“I wasn’t looking for nobody when you looked my way.” Rihanna (Don’t Stop the Music).
Double Negatives in English
Using double negatives in English can even trigger international political crises, so it’s better to understand why their use isn’t accepted as grammatically correct in English.
According to Lexico “two negative elements cancel each other out to give a positive statement instead.” In theory, this would mean that when a whole generation of young people was singing with Waters “we don’t need no education,” they were actually meaning that they needed education.
That would also mean that Mick Jagger can get satisfaction, which would render the whole meaning of his life—pointless.
But I’m digressing.
Double Negatives in Spanish
After learning all that about double negatives in English, you may be surprised to discover that double negatives in Spanish are not only accepted, but sometimes they’re even required. Moreover, you can have perfectly correct triple negatives in Spanish with no problem at all.
While in English “two negatives cancel each other out,” in Spanish the negatives reinforce each other, rather than canceling themselves out. This is not so rare, it happens also in other languages, and even in English up to the 16th century.
How to Use Double Negatives in Spanish
In order to properly use double negatives in Spanish, there are a couple of rules to consider:
- Don’t mix positive and negative words in statements.
- Don’t use more than one negative term before the verb. (As an exception to this rule the words nunca jamás or “never ever” can be used together before verbs).
Following these two simple rules, all you need now to create your own double negatives in Spanish are:
- Adverbs of Denial
- Indefinite Pronouns
Adverbs of Denial
Linguists like to say that “adverbs are to verbs, what adjectives are to nouns.” Weird people, I know. But in this case they have a point. Adverbs help you to express when, where, how and for how long an action takes place.
Adverbs of denial allow you to form double negatives in Spanish by reinforcing the negative meaning of your sentence.
The most common adverbs of denial in Spanish are:
- No – no, not
- Ni – neither, nor
- Nunca – never
- Jamás – never
- Tampoco – neither, either
Using these adverbs of denial all you need to do to form double negatives in Spanish is to follow this formula:
No + verb + adverb of denial + complement
Let’s see some examples:
No te quiero ver nunca más. – I don’t want to see you ever again.
No iré ni al cine ni a la fiesta. – I’m not going to the movies or to the party.
No he estado jamás en Argentina. – I’ve never been to Argentina.
Yo no estoy de acuerdo tampoco. – I don’t agree either.
If you have an adverb of denial before the verb, you can’t form a double negative. As in the following examples:
Nunca quiero volverte a ver. – I never want to see you again.
Jamás he estado en Argentina. – I’ve never been to Argentina.
Yo tampoco estoy de acuerdo. – I don’t agree either.
Sometimes, to substitute a noun you can use an indefinite pronoun. These useful words make only a reference to the quantity and in some cases gender of the noun.
The most common indefinite pronouns in Spanish are:
- Nadie – nobody, no one
- Nada – nothing
- Ningún, ninguno, ninguna – none, any, anyone
To form double negatives in Spanish using indefinite pronouns you should use this formula:
No + verb + indefinite pronoun + complement
No tienes nada que temer. – You shouldn’t be afraid of anything.
No vino nadie a la fiesta. – Nobody came to the party.
No tengo ninguna camisa blanca. – I have no white shirts.
Yo no sé nada de eso. – I know nothing about it.
No quiero ningún problema. – I don’t want any trouble.
Again, if you see an indefinite pronoun before the verb, you can’t form a double negative:
Nadie me quiere. – Nobody loves me.
Nada es más importante que esto. – Nothing is more important than this.
Ninguna persona debería hacer algo así. – Nobody should do anything like that.
Nunca and Tampoco
One final way of creating double negatives in Spanish is by substituting the initial no in the sentence with nunca or tampoco and then using an indefinite pronoun as follows:
Nunca/Tampoco + verb + indefinite pronoun + complement
Nunca viene nadie a mis fiestas. – No one ever comes to my parties.
Nunca he viajado a ningún país de Sudamérica. – I’ve never traveled to any country in South America.
When you use tampoco in Spanish you normally have previous information and you are responding to that.
Yo tampoco quiero saber nada de ella. – I don’t want to know anything about her either.
Tampoco he viajado a ningún país de Europa. – I haven’t traveled to any country in Europe either.
No Tienes Nada Que Perder
That’s a good example of a double negative in Spanish which means “you have nothing to lose.” Now that you’re learning all this useful information about Spanish grammar and that you know how to create double negatives in Spanish, sign up for a free trial class with one of our native Spanish speaking teachers and apply all that knowledge into a real-life conversation.
Because it’s free, you have nothing to lose or as you would say now: no tienes nada que perder. And you have a lot to win.
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