Using the Spanish 'No'

It Is Often the Equivalent of 'No,' 'Not' or 'Non-'

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Señal en Gateshead, Inglaterra. (Sign in Gateshead, England.). Photo by smlp.co.uk; licensed via Creative Commons.

A simple Spanish word like no can be deceptive. It looks and sounds like its English cognate, "no," and has a similar meaning. But there are some ways in which the Spanish no is used that will seem unfamiliar to English speakers.

Here, then, are some of the most common uses of no:

'No' as a Simple Answer to a Question

This usage is similar in both languages:

  • —¿Estás feliz? —No. (Are you happy? ¶ No.)
  • —¿Es estudiante de la sicología? —No, es estudiante del arte. (Is he a psychology student? ¶ No, he's an art student.)
  • —¿Hay muchas personas en tu país que hablan inglés? —No, pero hay muchas que hablan portugués. (Are there many people in your country who speak English? ¶ No, but there are many who speak Portuguese.)

Using 'No' as a Question Tag

No is very commonly attached to the end of a statement to turn it into a question, either rhetorically or seeking confirmation from the listener that the statement is true. It is usually the equivalent of "isn't that so?" or something similar. No in such situations is often called a question tag or tag question.

  • Estudias mucho, ¿no? (You study a lot, don't you?)
  • Su esposa es inteligente, ¿no? (His wife is intelligent, isn't she?)
  • Voy contigo, ¿no? (I'm going with you, aren't I?)

Using 'No' To Negate a Verb

In English, this is usually done using a negative auxiliary verb such as "don't," "won't" or "didn't."

  • Él no comprende el libro. (He doesn't understand the book.)
  • ¿Por qué no estudiabas? (Why didn't you study?)
  • El presidente no es una mujer de grandes principios ni convicciones. (The president isn't a woman of great principles nor convictions.)

Using 'No' as Part of a Double Negative

As a general rule, if a Spanish verb is followed by a negative, it must also be preceded by no or another negative.

When translated to English, such sentences use only one negative word.

  • No conoce a nadie. (He doesn't know anyone.)
  • No fui a ninguna parte. (I didn't go anywhere.)
  • Ahora mismo no estoy concentrado en escribir ningún libro. (Right now I'm not focused on writing any book.)

Using 'No' as the Equivalent of 'Non-' Before Some Nouns and Adjectives

Many words use prefixes as a way of making them into the opposite; for example, the opposite of prudente (careful) is imprudente (careless). But some words are preceded by no instead.

  • Creo en la no violencia. (I believe in nonviolence.)
  • Humo pasivo puede matar a los no fumadores. (Secondhand smoke can kill nonsmokers.)
  • El pólipo es no maligno. (The polyp is nonmalignant.)
  • No existe la palabra para definir a la mujer que no es madre. Pero sí que existen las no madres. (There isn't a word that defines the woman who isn't a mother. But indeed non-mothers exist.)

Using 'No' as the Equivalent of 'Not'

Typically, no when used the way English uses "not" immediately precedes the word or phrase it negates.

  • ¡No en nuestro nombre! (Not in our name!)
  • El matrimonio con ella fue fugaz y no feliz. (His marriage with her was brief and not happy.)
  • Pueden hacer el mismo, pero no rápidamente. (They can do the same thing, but not quickly.)
  • Tiene la inteligencia de no pedir lo que no le van a dar. (She has the intelligence to not ask for what they're not going to give her.)

Using 'No' as a Noun

As can the English "no," the Spanish no can be used as noun, although the Spanish word is a bit more flexibly used.

  • El país ha dicho un no rotundo a la guerra. (The country has said a definite no to the war.)
  • Hay una diferencia profunda entre el sí y el no. (There's a huge difference between yes and no.)
  • Con este referéndum le dieron un gran no al primer ministro. (With this referendum they gave a huge no to the prime minister.)