Italian Double Negatives: How to Conjugate and Use Them

The rule 'no double negatives' doesn't apply in Italian

Pantheon in Rome
©Mai Pham

Your grade school English teacher probably told you repeatedly that you couldn't use more than one negative word in the same sentence. In Italian, though, the double negative is the acceptable format, and even three negative words can be used together in a sentence:

Non viene nessuno. (No one is coming.)
Non vogliamo niente/nulla. (We don't want anything.)
Non ho mai visto nessuno in quella stanza. (I didn't see anyone in that room.)

In fact, there is a whole host of phrases made up of double (and triple) negatives. The following table includes most of them.

Double and Triple Negative ​Phrases
non...nessuno no one, nobody
non... niente nothing
non...nulla nothing
non...né...né neither...nor
non...mai never
non...ancora not yet
non...più no longer
non...affatto not at all
non...mica not at all (in the least)
non...punto not at all
non...neanche not even
non...nemmeno not even
non...neppure not even
non...che only

Here are some examples of how these phrases may be used in Italian:

Non ha mai letto niente. (She read nothing.)
Non ho visto nessuna carta stradale. (I didn't see any street signs.)
Non abbiamo trovato né le chiavi né il portafoglio. (We found neither the keys nor the wallet.)

Note that in the case of the negative expressions non...nessuno, non...niente, non...né...né, and non...che, they always follow the past participle. Observe the following examples:

Non ho trovato nessuno. (I haven't found anyone.)
Non abbiamo detto niente. (We haven't said anything.)
Non ha letto che due libri. (She has read only two books.)
Non ho visto niente di interessante al cinema. (I didn't see anything of interest at the cinema.)

When using the combinations non...mica and non...punto, mica and punto always come between the auxiliary verb and the past participle:

Non avete mica parlato. (They haven't spoken at all.)
Non è punto arrivata. (She hasn't arrived at all.)

When using the expressions non...affatto (not at all), non...ancora (not yet), and non...più (no more, no longer), the words affatto, ancora, or più can be placed either between the auxiliary verb and the past participle or after the past participle:

Non era affatto vero. Non era vero affatto. (It wasn't true at all.)
Non mi sono svegliato ancora. Non mi sono ancora svegliato. (I hadn't woken yet.)
Non ho letto più. Non ho più letto. (I no longer read.)

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Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Double Negatives: How to Conjugate and Use Them." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Filippo, Michael San. (2023, April 5). Italian Double Negatives: How to Conjugate and Use Them. Retrieved from Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Double Negatives: How to Conjugate and Use Them." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).