LearningPortuguese

Negatives

Making negative statements and asking questions is fairly easy in Portuguese (at last, something easy!). To make a sentence negative, you can just prefix the verb with the word ‘não’. That's it. There are of course, other ways of making things negative, but using ‘não’ is by far the most common, and easiest.

Here are some examples of making negative statements using ‘não’:

Eu não como …

I do not eat …

Eles não me escrevem

They do not write to me

Não trabalhamos aqui

We do not work here

 There are a few more things you should know about negatives. One thing you may come across is the negative usage of a strange little word: ‘algum’. This word literally means ‘some’ (as in ‘some day’) or ‘one’ (‘one day’). The feminine form of the word is ‘alguma’, and the plurals are ‘alguns’ and ‘algumas’ respectively. The equivalent of the English word ‘something’ is ‘alguma coisa’.

Why am I telling you this? Well, ‘algum’ can sometimes be used to form a negative, which seems (to me at least) a little odd. For example:

de modo algum

by no means (lit. ‘of means some [none]’)

de forma alguma

in no way (lit. ‘of way some [none]’)

coisa alguma

nothing (lit. ‘thing some [none]’)

Strange eh? Especially how swapping the words ‘alguma’ and ‘coisa’ yields completely the opposite result. I’m glad you agree. Sorry, I don't have an explanation for it - you just have to get used to it!

Here are a few more negative words that you should be aware of:

nada

nothing; anything (Another weird one – I'll explain in a minute!)

nenhum/nenhuma

no; not one; not any (always followed by a noun – e.g. ‘nenhum lugar’ means ‘nowhere’ – lit. ‘not any place’)

nem

neither; nor

ninguém

nobody; no one

nunca

never; ever

jamais

never; ever

proibido

forbidden; prohibited

proibido fumar

no smoking (lit. ‘prohibited to smoke’)

sem

without

sem dúvida

no doubt

indubitável

undoubted (formal – only used when writing)

contra

against

incapaz

unable

Some explanation is in order! Let's take the word ‘nada’. A literal translation of this would be ‘nothing’. As a one-word answer to a question, this would be acceptable (e.g. – ‘O que comes?’ – ‘Nada’. = ‘What are you eating?’ – ‘Nothing.’). However, ‘nada’ is often used in conjunction with ‘não’ – which might seem to us like a double negative, but is normal practice in Portuguese.

For example: ‘Não comemos nada’ (We are not eating anything).

In fact, in this type of sentence, the word ‘não’ is essential to make sense in Portuguese. Effectively then, the word ‘nada’ is being used in a way that we might use the word ‘anything’ – ‘we are not eating anything’ makes a little more sense (grammatically) than ‘we are not eating nothing’.

Note though, that ‘nada’ is only used to mean ‘anything’ when the sentence is negative. If a positive statement is being made (e.g. ‘I eat anything’), the words ‘qualquer coisa’ are used rather than ‘nada’ (‘Eu como qualquer coisa’), although often, the Portuguese will use ‘something’ (alguma coisa) in places where the English would use ‘anything’ (qualquer coisa). Perhaps a few more examples will help…

Ele não bebe nada

He does not drink anything

Não escrevo nada

I do not write anything

Ele bebe qualquer coisa

He drinks anything

Está a ver alguma coisa?

Are you watching anything? (more on questions in a minute…)

Similarly, the words ‘nunca’ and ‘jamais’ can mean ‘never’ or ‘ever’:

Nunca mais

Never again

Mais que nunca

More than ever

Ninguém jamais pensa

Nobody ever thinks

By the way, ‘nunca ‘is used more often than ‘jamais’ – ‘jamais’ being rather more emphatic than ‘nunca’.

Note that the word ‘nem’ can be used in place of both ‘neither’ and ‘nor’ – so when we say ‘neither x nor y’ in English, the Portuguese translation could be ‘nem x nem y’ (an alternative translation would be ‘não x nem y’).

As noted in the section on imperatives, when giving negative commands in the 2nd person (you or you all, informal), instead of using the true imperative form, you switch to the present subjunctive (the same as for other ‘persons’).

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