Forming Negative Phrases – Não, Nada, Nenhum, Ninguém

Making negative statements in Portuguese is fairly easy. For the most part, to make a sentence negative, you can just place the word não before the verb, which is the equivalent of both no and not. Examples:
Este carro é rápido.This car is fast.
Este carro não é rápido. This car is not fast.
Não is also used at the beginning of sentences, when replying to a question:
Queres água? Would you like some water?
Não, obrigado. No, thank you.
But there are also three other words that express negation in Portuguese – nada, ninguém, and nenhum/nenhuma. Their use depends on the subject or object of the sentence. And unlike in English, we can use them with the word não, creating a double negative.

Nada

Nada is the equivalent of  “nothing”. It is only used for things or abstract concepts, and it is pretty straightforward for English speakers. Example:
Nada mudou desde o ano passado. Nothing changed since last year.
Eu não quero nada. I don't want anything.

Ninguém

Ninguém is the equivalent to “no one” or “nobody”, and is used when talking about people. Just like nada, it’s very easy to use. Example:
Ninguém sabe o que aconteceu. Nobody knows what happened.
Eu não conheço ninguém. I don't know anyone.

Nenhum/Nenhuma (nenhuns/nenhumas)

Nenhum/nenhuma are, respectively, the masculine and feminine equivalents to “none”. They’re used for both objects and people. Example:
Nenhum dos convidados trouxe comida. None of the guests brought food.
Nenhuma destas camisas me serve. None of these shirts fit me.
Unlike nada and ninguém, which are always the same (i.e. invariable), nenhum/nenhuma have a plural form: nenhuns/nenhumas, which is roughly equivalent to the English word “any” when “any” is paired with a negative. Examples:
Não vi canetas nenhumas! I didn’t see any pens!
Não ouvi cães nenhuns! I didn’t hear any dogs!
From these examples, you can see that this plural form is usually employed when you want to answer questions emphatically. In this case, with “não” at the start of the sentence, the plural form is placed after the noun. Like we said, unlike English, this double negation is a perfectly acceptable construction in Portuguese. The negatives don’t cancel each other out, but, instead, reinforce each other.

Comments:

  • this needs a longer chapter to really comprehend better. the latter negatives were very hard to pronounce, maybe add a slow version.

  • Those sentences are very difficult to pronounce. I barely hear any difference between “Não vi” and “Não ouvi”.

  • I would suggest using only the present tense of verbs to illustrate forming negative phrases. Using other tenses introduces items we are not yet familiar with, and for me, confuses the aspect we are focussing on.

    • Hi, Kate. The way the sentences are constructed, it’s enough for “dos” and “das” to be pluralized, in agreement with the noun. Think of it as saying “Not one of the guests…”/”Not one of the shirts…”. In fact, most of us prefer to always use “nenhum” in the singular form (except for those cases of double negations that are described at the end). So, we could also say “Nenhum convidado trouxe comida”, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear anyone say “Nenhuns convidados trouxeram comida”.

  • Just a reminder that you need to add speech examples to a couple of the phrases, like:
    Eu não quero nada
    and
    Eu não conheço ninguém

  • This is too big a jump for beginners. Give us more time with the basics first! The pronunciation is a real barrier to progress.

    • Aideen,
      Check out the videos in the Practice section. The disappearing vowels, five pronunciations of the letter “X”, and open and closed vowels to suggest a few. The one phrase that really got me when I moved here was “Até logo” which is pronounced as one word “te-log”. Boa sorte!

  • Por favor. Qual é a frase correta?

    “Não tenho dinheiro nenhum.” ou “Não tenho dinheiro nenhuns.”

    Ou outra frase é correta?

    Obrigado

    • A frase correta é “Não tenho dinheiro nenhum”, porque ‘dinheiro’ é um substantivo (noun) singular. Só quando tens um substantivo no plural é que ‘nenhum’ passa a ‘nenhuns’ (masculino) ou ‘nenhumas’ (feminino) 🙂

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