The conjunction "ni" explained

"Ni idea" how to use this word? Learn the grammar of this 2-letter conjunction and see some of the most common expressions it appears in.

Sep 27, 2019
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You no doubt hear this word all the time in Spanish. Maybe you are able to understand it in certain common expressions, but do you find yourself with no idea (ni idea) of how this tiny word actually works or how to use it on your own?

In this guide, we'll unravel the mysteries of this elusive conjunction, from its grammatical usage to some common expressions, and get you using it like a native.

Meaning and usage

The first thing you need to know is that ni is a form of negation, therefore it’s used in negative sentences. Grammatically speaking ni is a conjunction, linking ideas of the same category.

Let's take a look at the different meanings of ni:

Ni... ni: neither... nor

With ni we can negate the same idea about two different subjects. It’s easier to understand with some examples:

  • Ni Audrey ni Merly han ido a Australia.
    Neither Audrey nor Merly have been to Australia.

In the example, there’s something equally true about Merly and Audrey: they both haven’t been to Australia and we use ni to express this.

Check out the same example with another order:

  • No han ido a Australia ni Audrey ni Merly.
    Neither Audrey nor Merly have been to Australia.

In this example we start by negating the verb since in Spanish it’s necessary to indicate from the beginning that our sentence is negative. Make sure to use a negation adverb before the verb such as no, nunca or jamás if you’re going to use this structure.

Ni: or

We can also make a negation about a list of things linked by the same idea.

  • Andrea no puede comer ni queso ni leche ni mantequilla, es alérgica a los lácteos.
    Andrea can’t eat cheese, milk or butter; she’s allergic to dairy.
  • A Michael no le gustaba ir al cine ni ver series ni escuchar música.
    Michael didn’t like going to the movies, watching series or listening to music.

Ni (siquiera): not even

Ni, optionally followed by siquiera (even if), is used to emphasize the lack of the minimum expected from something and it generally follows a negative sentence.

  • No le dijiste a nadie que te ibas del país, ni (siquiera) a mí.
    You didn’t tell anyone you were leaving the country, not even me.
  • No te va a dar tiempo de llegar, ni (siquiera) viniendo en taxi.
    You won’t be on time even if you take a cab.

Ni que + verb in imperfect subjunctive

This is a very emphatic and strong way to negate an assumption someone’s making because it seems obvious this assumption isn’t true. The tone of the voice for these sentences is generally (but not always) sarcastic, annoyed, irritated, or mocking.

  • ¿Qué te hace pensar que ella puede comprarse ese carro? ¡Ni que se hubiera ganado la lotería!
    What makes you think she can buy that car?! It’s not as if she’s won the lottery.
  • Es obvio que no puedes estar permanentemente en Colombia sin visa, ¡ni que fueras colombiano!
    It’s obvious you can’t stay permanently in Colombia without a visa. In case you didn’t notice, you’re not Colombian!

Common expressions with "ni"

Now that you've got a base understanding of how to use this humble conjunction (it's easy, right?), let’s take a look at some of the most common expressions with ni that will boost your conversational fluency and help you sound more natural.

Ni idea (no idea)

This expression is implicitly preceded by no tener (to not have). What this means is that saying no tengo ni idea (I have no idea) and ni idea (no idea) expresses basically the same thing when used as a response. It is due to this implicit no tener that we use ni instead of no with idea.

  • A: ¿Sabes si Rodolfo llamó?
    Do you know if Rodolfo called?
  • B: No. (No tengo) ni idea.
    No… (I have) no idea.

Ni una palabra más (not another word)

The implied negation before this expression is no decir (to not say). It's generally used in imperative form.

  • ¡(No digas) ni una palabra más! No quiero escucharte.
    Not another word! I don’t want listen to you!

Ni loco (absolutely not/ no way)

This is a very strong way to refuse to do something.

  • No voy a ir a ese viaje ni loco.
    There’s no way I’m going on that trip!

There are many equivalent expressions such as: ni de chiste/ni en broma, ni en sueños, ni de vaina, ni muerto/a.

Also, the verbs pensar and soñar can be used with ni to form the following negative imperative expression: ni pensarlo, ni soñarlo.

  • Ya te dije que no voy a ir contigo. ¡Ni lo sueñes!
    I already told you I’m not going with you. Don’t even dream about it!

Ni modo (oh well)

This expresses resignation before a negative or inconvenient situation.

  • No pude comprar la casa… Ni modo.
    I couldn’t buy the house… Oh well.
  • Mi hermana iba a venir a visitarme pero se enfermó y no pudo… Así que ni modo, para la próxima.
    My sister was supposed to come visit me but she got sick so she didn’t… But oh well. Next time.

Ni hablar (let alone/ not to mention)

This expression is used to emphasize and reaffirm a previous statement.

  • ¡Ellos compraron una casa hermosa! Y ni hablar del carro: ¡espectacular!
    They bought a beautiful house! Not to mention the car: spectacular!
  • Mis estudiantes nunca estudian para los exámenes y ni hablar de los tuyos.
    My students never study for the exams, let alone yours.

Ni qué ocho cuartos/ ni qué nada

One of our personal favorites! It’s used to strongly express disagreement. We don’t know exactly where this weird expression came from, but it’s definitely very common. Please, don’t use it in formal contexts.

  • A: ¿Estás haciendo dieta? Te veo mucho más delgada.
    Are you dieting? You look much thinner!
  • B: ¡Qué dieta ni qué ocho cuartos! Lo que tengo es un estrés horrible.
    A diet? Are you kidding me? I’m under a lot of stress!

We can also replace ocho cuartos with the noun, adjective, adverb or verb included in the sentence we disagree with. E.g.:

  • ¡Qué dieta ni qué dieta! Lo que tengo es un estrés horrible.
    A diet? Are you kidding me? I’m under a lot of stress!

Ni lo uno ni lo otro (neither)

This expression refuses two possibilities in a given situation.

  • A: ¿Quieres vino o cerveza?
    Do you want wine or beer?
  • B: Um… Ni lo uno ni lo otro. Prefiero agüita. Gracias.
    Umm… Neither. I’d rather have some water. Thank you.

Ni corto ni perezoso (without hesitation)

Another one of our favorites! Use it when you want to describe an action made without thinking or hesitation.

  • Él la llamó y ella ni corta ni perezosa se fue corriendo detrás de él.
    He called her and she went running to meet him without hesitation.

Ni mucho menos (at all/ whatsoever)

This expression emphasizes a previous negation, like "at all" or "whatsoever" in English.

  • Esa noche no estaba cansada ni mucho menos. Solo no tenía demasiado tiempo para salir.
    I wasn't actually tired at all that night. I just didn’t have much time to go out.

Now that you've learned the ins and outs of ni, head over to the exercises to practice, or listen to our podcast!

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