It might be the most famous example of an English phenomenon called a “double negative.”
Double negatives occur when the speaker uses two negative words — in the above example, “ain’t” and “nothing” — in the same sentence.
Double negatives are commonly used in some English dialects, including in the American South and AAVE (African American Vernacular English). Despite their common use, double negatives are considered grammatically incorrect in the standard English taught in schools.
However, the rules for negative expressions are different in Spanish, and many native English speakers may have trouble adjusting to using multiple negatives in a sentence.
Let’s start with the basics:
In Spanish, a negative sentence is a sentence in which the word “no” precedes the verb.
No tengo hambre. — I’m not hungry.
No me gusta ir al gimnasio. — I don’t like to go to the gym.
Él no puede ver la pantalla. — He can’t see the screen.
In Spanish, all words that can be negative, should be negative in a negative sentence. In other words, double negatives are grammatically correct! Here’s what that looks like:
No tengo nada. — I don’t have anything.
No me gusta ninguna verdura. — I don’t like any vegetables.
Él no puede ver nada. — He can’t see anything.
Notice that where the English sentence uses a positive word (any/anything), the Spanish sentence uses a negative word (nada/ninguna).
Here is a chart of Spanish negative words to practice with!
Nadie — Nobody
Nada — Nothing
Ni...ni — Neither...nor
Jamás/nunca — Never
Tampoco — Neither
Ningún, ninguno ninguna, ningunos, ningunas — not one
While negative expressions can be tricky because they resemble double negatives in English, they will come easily with a little practice! Come up with some negative expressions on your own to practice, and sign up for classes at www.thespanishlearningclub.com for more instruction.